Archives For February 2011

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP

In a season of record-breaking achievements, Kobe nearly added another one to his résumé last night, coming within five points of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time single-game All-Star scoring record of 42 points, set in 1962. Bryant’s final stat line of 29 minutes, 37 points (14-26 shooting), and 14 rebounds (10 offensive) was still plenty good enough to earn him his record-tying fourth All-Star Most Valuable Player award.

“It feels great, being at home here and playing in front of the home crowd,” said #24 after the game. “This will be my last All-Star game in front of these home fans, so it feels good to do it.”

For those of us watching at home or lucky enough to be inside of STAPLES Center, Bryant’s performance was a true sight to behold. After hanging around a noticeably light-hearted, jovial Kobe at practice all weekend, I’m not sure any of us really got the sense that we were going to witness the type of special display that we saw in the West’s 148-143 victory over the East All-Stars.

“I talked to him right before the game and I told him let’s go, and he’s one of those guys and he’s a lot like me—an ultimate competitor,” said Bryant’s fellow backcourt member Chris Paul. “I know the All-Star games are supposed to be fun and games, but at the end of the day, we want to win.”

No one wants to win more so than Kobe and it is that insatiable desire that continues to separate him from his peers, both past and present.

“You could tell he started out from the start, he wanted to get the MVP; he was not passing the ball, at all,” said East starter Amar’e Stoudemire. “But that’s Kobe.”

On paper, it sounds like the Knicks center is taking a jab at Kobe’s 26 field goal attempts (he made 14 of them, by the way). In the actual media room, Stoudemire’s tone was more one of reverence than disrespect. Truth be told, Amar’e has seen many a night like last night while going head-to-head for years against Bryant as a member of the Phoenix Suns. Other players like Kevin Durant — who up until a few years ago was watching Kobe on his TV screen — were left in awe.

“It was like playing in a playground,” said the Thunder star. “It was like a pick-up game almost. Just to watch it, I see it on TV all the time, I play against him all the time. But to be on his team and see the things that he was doing out there, is just amazing. As a young player like me, I grew up watching him, and to play alongside him is just an honor.”

Why any one of the media, fans or fellow players still wind up surprised when he puts on a show like he did last night remains one the NBA’s true unsolved mysteries, unless you’re West Coach Greg Popovic.

“He’s one hell of a player,” said Popovic, who’s been witness to countless games like last night from Kobe in the enduring Lakers vs. Spurs rivalry. “He’s Kobe. He does things like that. We shouldn’t be surprised.”

At this stage of his career, Kobe’s motor is more of a diesel engine than a shiny new electric one. Last night was just the latest reminder, though, that he still has enough juice to rev up the old car when he so chooses. After all, they don’t call him Mamba for nothing; Bryant perfected this play dead-and-strike act long ago.

“I joked with him today and called him the Old Fella,” said Durant, showing an admirable amount of deference for a player who is the league’s reigning scoring champ. “He’s been here a long time, but he’s still playing like he’s 22-years-old. You know, as a player, you only can hope and pray for a career like he’s had; a lot of championships, a lot of scoring titles. So it was an honor to play alongside a guy like that. So if he passes the torch on to me, I guess I know what to do with it.”

That day when Kobe will inevitably pass the proverbial torch to the likes of LeBron and Durant is indeed coming, but if his MVP performance is any indicator, they’re going to have to wait a while.

From DanWoike, OC Register: When you’re trying to figure out who the best player in the NBA is right now, you have to, at one point or the other, figure out if Kobe Bryant is better than LeBron James. Sunday night during the All-Star Game, I got a chance to see those two guys do what they do, both trying their best to get their team the win. Kobe was scoring in a ton of different ways, dunking like a player with way less mileage on his legs. James was bullying whoever was silly enough to get in his way. I’ll never think about the West winning the game. I will, however, think about Kobe going for 37 and Bron’s triple double. Those two players were the best in their respective uniforms Sunday night, and I had an awesome time watching them battle.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: I have to say, that game was respectably fun. It wasn’t that dunk-heavy, really, not to the extent we’re used to seeing in the ASG, and the East spent a good portion of the night throwing terrible outlet passes. But by the standards of All-Star contests, which we know ahead of time are not going to be played with textbook precision, this one wasn’t bad. There was a strong individual performance from Kobe Bryant, who captured MVP honors with 37 points, 14 boards, three assists and three steals. There was a nice LeBron James-led comeback by the East to make the final six minutes close. And I actually found the Rihanna-Kanye halftime set to be damn entertaining. Am I crazy for thinking that? I know Rihanna missed a few notes, but we mustn’t nitpick after the dual travesties that were the Super Bowl halftime show and today’s Lenny Kravitz pregame lip-sync-athon.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: On what was clearly Kobe Bryant’s night, it would be impossible to accuse Pau Gasol of trying to steal his thunder. When the pair met the media together following the Western Conference’s 148-143 win Sunday night, punctuated by the fourth MVP performance of Kobe’s career in the NBA’s almost-mid-season classic, Gasol sat to Kobe’s left and didn’t say a word. Not a peep. Nobody asked him a question. (Not in English, at least– outside the interview room, Gasol was mobbed by the international media.) Nor is it the first time this sort of thing has happened. In the postseason, when players are commonly sent to the podium in pairs, Gasol frequently plays the role of Harpo to Kobe’s rest-of-the-Marx Brothers. Not that he necessarily cares. When it was over, Gasol stood, smiled, and waved. “Thanks guys!”

From Steve Bulpett, Boston Herald: In Paul Pierce dreams, perhaps the Staples Center fans are drawing out the vowel as they bellow, “Tru-u-u-u-th.” But the Celtics captain was awake last night, and he’s well aware that he was being hooted on by his hometown because he is, well, the Celtics captain. He also had the temerity to beat the Lakers in the 2008 Finals — the nerve of the guy. If Pierce had any notion that the All-Star weekend crowd would be more transient, that was rectified during Saturday’s 3-point contest and again last night when he was verbally drilled during the pregame introductions that lasted longer than some Third World regimes. “Tru-u-u-u-th” or consequences? “No,” said Pierce through a laugh, “those were boos.”

From Eddie Maisonet, Ed The Sports Fan: What we saw in last night’s NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles was what I expect to see in every all-star contest: breath-taking plays, uptempo action, and in the fourth quarter an attempt to have a competitive game. We went 3-for-3 last night, and although the Kobe dunk over LeBron was dope but overrated, (look, he had to dunk it fast or Bron was sending that ball over to Bieber) LeBron fullbacking to the lane, Durant redeeming himself from that lackluster performance in the three-point shootout, (a 6 KD? Damn….even Boobie got 7!) almost 300 points scored, and the East comeback that made the 4th-quarter quite compelling. However, there will never be anything close to the 2001 NBA All-Star game, also known as the greatest All-Star game ever played.

What a game.

Kobe had it going early, Lebron had it going late, and Durant iced the contest in the end. In between those guys doing what they do best, Amar’e threw down a dunk nearly any time he was within five feet of the hoop and was the East’s best big man for most of the evening.

The game started with our own #24 going to work on offense and showing that there is still some life in those 32 year old legs. Throwing down multiple dunks and getting good lift on his jumper, Kobe was in vintage form in the early going. It’s tough to choose a specific play to call my favorite, but his first dunk of the night where he went up and under the rim and threw it down with two hands was a highpoint for me. The play just showed so many facets of Kobe’s game…you had the great first step, the ability to tightrope the baseline, and then the spectacular finish all on a single play. The fact that we’ve rarely seen that explosiveness from him this year was just the icing on the cake.  But it wasn’t just on offense that Kobe was doing major work. He had a game high 14 rebounds, added 3 assists and 3 steals to a very good line.

But while Kobe was human down the stretch, Lebron and Kevin Durant were not. The self proclaimed King saw a double digit deficit in the 2nd half and decided that he was not going to go down without a fight. He turned up his intensity on defense, started to rebound the ball, and then did what he did best by pushing the ball in the open court and bulling his way to the basket. Highlighted by a classic LeBron dunk where he brought the ball what seemed like two feet behind his head and explosively through the ball through the hoop with amazing power, James was a dominant player down the stretch either getting his own shot with ease or setting up a mate (usually Amar’e) for a good look at the rim. Lebron ended the night with a triple double, dropping 29 points to go along with 12 rebounds and 10 assists. If there was a more complete player on the floor for the entirety of the game I’m not sure who he was. And considering how well Kobe played, that’s really saying something.

As for Durant, what can you really say about the man that has clearly become the most dangerous scoring threat in the league. While he didn’t match Kobe’s game high 37, KD did drop 34 points of his own making 11 of his 23 FG’s, going 8-8 from the foul line and throwing in 4 three pointers. But it wasn’t just the fact that Durant was knocking down shots, it’s the fact that he hit the big shots down the stretch. When LeBron was nearly single handedly bringing the East back to within two points in the closing minutes, it was Durant nailing a pull up jumper from the top of the circle and then following that up with a three pointer for a one man 5 point run that essentially iced the game. Two straight daggers for Durant and that was that. Really, it was a sight to see him step up the way that he did and seize the moment. It really is tough to believe that he’s only in his 4th season.

Despite this being an All-Star game though, every game needs some role players “stepping up” in order to get the win. For the West team, those guys were easily Russ Westbrook, Deron Williams, and Pau Gasol. Westbrook was tremendous going to the basket all night and had one of the better moves going to the rim all night where he left his defender in his wake by crossing over from right to left and then throwing up a lefty scoop with english that he banked home. Russ ended the night with 12 points on 6-12 shooting and chipped in 5 rebounds as well. Williams, meanwhile, didn’t shoot the ball that well (2-7 FG’s) but did everything else well tying for the team high in assists with 7, playing pretty good D down the stretch, and just being a solid guard when the West needed some stability.

But it was Gasol’s under the radar performance that most helped secure the win when looking outside Kobe and Durant. Pau had 17 points (a high mark for points in all his ASG appearances) on 8-13 shooting and also grabbed 6 offensive boards, none bigger than a tip in off a Kobe miss with less than a minute left that pushed the West lead back to 4 and ultimately kept the East at arms length. His final two FT’s pushed the lead up to 6 and that pretty much ended the game.

In the end, though, the game was about Kobe showing that he’s still got something for the league by earning his 4th All-Star game MVP award and putting on a show for the hometown fans. It’s hard to put into words watching him continue to have something in reserve and defy what people think he should be. Just a tremendous effort from him. I feel quite grateful that I was here to witness it in person.

The big game is finally here.

For one night it’s not about collective bargaining or who should have one the dunk contest or cheering the fact that both Celtics that made the three point contest final got beat by a role player. Actually, there’s always more time for that.

There is a game to play though, so all of that fades to background for now. The best in the world are suiting up and will go at it in an effort to entertain the fans and show off their tremendous skill.

Some things that I’m interested in seeing as the game plays out:

  • Will Kobe go for the MVP? #24 already has three trophies in his collection from the 2002, 2007, and 2009 contests. With the game at Staples and Kobe playing in his town, tonight offers as good a chance as any for him to grab a fourth. Sure, there are other fantastic players that will be gunning for the award. Lebron and Wade are always good choices and I actually anticipate a very good game from Durant as he continues his ascension as one of the best players in the league. But, the hometown players always seem to play very well in these games and with the Lakers not playing well coming into the break this game may serve as an opportunity for Kobe to reinforce the idea that he’s not quite ready to relinquish his grip on the league.
  • How much will the young players play? Westbrook, Love, and Griffin are all first timers. Typically, in these games the young guys cede their minutes to veterans that have a better feel for how these games go. In yesterday’s media session Pop said that he was already joking with the ASG rookies about how little they’d play. However, Griffin and Westbrook are two of the most exciting young players the NBA has to offer so I wonder if Pop will let these young thoroughbreds loose to get out in the open court and generate some highlights for the fans. Considering these guys offer up at least one ridiculous play a game, here’s hoping it happens.
  • Who will fill the PG void? Two of my favorite All-Star game point guards are Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. They’ve both had that uncanny ability to push the game forward and really set up their mates to get them going. But with neither here, someone else will need to fulfill my jones. Lucky for us all there is no shortage of great lead guards – Paul, Williams, Rose, and Rondo are widely considered the top four players at the position in the league – but I’m anxious to see if any of them show that special type of floor generalship that Nash and Kidd have brought to this game over the years. My guess is that Paul and Rondo will fill that role for their respective teams, but we’ll see.
  • Will it be a close game with a true crunch time and, if so, what will the lineups look like? With the best of the best available for the coaches to choose from, there are plenty of choices to play the most important minutes – or as Magic has always called it: winning time – but who will Greg Popovich and Doc Rivers call on? My best guesses are Paul, Kobe, Durant, Dirk, and Gasol for the West while Rose, Wade, Lebron, KG, and Howard represent the East. Obviously these coaches have a myriad of choices and more of their own players at their disposal (Manu and Timmy for Pop;  Rondo, Pierce and Allen for Doc) but I think these lineups offer these coaches their best chance to get both the stops they seek on one end and buckets on the other.
  • How will the players with some controversy surrounding them play? It’s been reported that Carmelo has met with both the Nets and Knicks in the past couple of days and that both teams remain hot on the trail of Anthony. Meanwhile, that same Ken Berger story also tells us that Deron Williams has told associates that he’d like to be a Knick when he becomes a free agent at the end of next season. With all of this news breaking yesterday, I’m quite interested in seeing if their games are affected at all. Odds are we won’t see any real difference in these guys and we’ll be treated to the same excellence we typically see. However, if it doesn’t play out that way you best believe they’ll be asked about whether or not it affected their play after the game. (Actually, you can probably bet on that whether or not they play well.)

In the end, there are many other angles to look when it comes to one of the most fun games of the year. These are just a few that are on my mind. What’s on yours? Let me know in the comments and enjoy the game.

More news and notes from STAPLES Center as we look ahead to tonight’s big game…

• Other than a potential meet-up in the Finals, the All-Star Game is the only time all season other than two regular season games when the Lakers and Celtics will share the same floor. Just because the game is an exhibition, though, doesn’t mean the rivalry takes a night off, too—at least not for Lakers fans, who vociferously booed Paul Pierce every time he touched the ball during last night’s three point shootout. Fellow shootout competitor and new all-time three-point record-holder Ray Allen got off a little easier, but there was still no mistaking the disdain in the building for the enemies in green. “I think that’s normal,” said Gasol after yesterday’s All-Star practice. “I think that’s the passion of the fans. We all know how they feel about the Celtics.”

• With All-Star regulars like Dirk, Yao, Pau, Manu, etc., the league’s showcase weekend also doubles as a testament to the NBA’s rapid international expansion. “It means a lot,” explained Gasol. “It means that international basketball has grown so much and it’s produced incredible players. To a certain point, the Dream Team of ’92 had a big effect on a lot of players from my generation who started to play there and are now playing in the NBA.”

• We all know Kobe has a flair for the dramatic and has historically performed well in previous All-Star games. Does that automatically make him the go-to option down the stretch of a close game on such a star-studded roster? Gasol chimed in with his two cents: “I’m sure if the game comes to the point where the West needs to hit a game-winner, I’m sure he’ll step up and take it for sure and he’ll be thrilled to do so. I mean, what better scenario than at STAPLES Center.” If his play on Team USA is any indicator, his teammates should and will look to Bryant in the clutch.

• Of the many ails that plagued the Lakers leading up to the All-Star break, Pau believes that a renewed sense of energy is all his team needs to get back on track in the second half of the season—and the (underrated) return of Matt Barnes. “I can’t wait to get back together with the team Monday and work on whatever things the coaching staff wants us to work on and get it going,” said Gasol. “We have a tough back-to-back starting right after the break, so I look forward to that to.” On the impact of Barnes re-joining the team: “We’ve just got to get Matt healthy so he can help us in the small forward position. We have pretty much the same championship team we had last year, so that should be plenty to go for another one.”

The fact that Blake Griffin was crowned dunk king 2011 is no surprise. Throwing down monstrous jams in front of hometown fans with viewers all over the world texting in votes to choose a winner almost ensured that he’d go home with the trophy.

But, while Griffin even had a miss that brought the house down, took the “elbow” dunk to the next level by throwing the ball off the glass before throwing his entire arm through the hoop, and pretty much ended the night jumping over a car and throwing down a two hander, I’m not sure if he had the best dunk of the evening.

Personally, I’m fond of both the dunks that DeMarr DeRozan pulled off, with his first dunk really standing out to me as he caught a lob off the stanchion and then went between his legs for the finish. His second dunk where he lobbed the ball to himself and then caught the ball one handed and cupped home a crazy finish was just as good.

Meanwhile, the other contestants were throwing down monsters too. Serge Ibaka took off from the free throw line with his first dunk of the night and got head high at the rim throwing down a second.

JaVale McGee spent most of the night testing the limits of what we thought was possible by first dunking two balls on two different baskets and then trying to top that by throwing down three balls all on the same hoop. His under the rim cradle dunk was one of the best I’ve seen in a while after actually seeing it in slow motion.

And maybe that’s the real lesson from the night. All four guys had an arsenal of dunks that had the crowd ooh-ing and ah-ing all evening. Any of the four guys could have advanced to the finals and I’m sure any of them could have won considering what they showed on the big stage. The fact that Griffin is now the champ shouldn’t take anything away from what the other guys put on display for us to see.

So, what was your favorite? McGee’s double rim hammer? Maybe his up and under cradle? Griffin’s off the side of the backboard finish? On of DeRozan’s? Ibaka’s tribute to Jordan and Dr. J?After thinking more about it, I’m actually having trouble choosing myself.


If the last All-Star Game held in Los Angeles in 2004 feels like like a lifetime ago, Kobe’s All-Star Game debut in 1998 seems nearly pre-historic by now. Long before Kobe-to-Shaq, a Most Valuable Player Award and five NBA Championships, there was a precocious skinny kid who went toe-to-toe with an aging icon — Michael Jordan. Fourteen seasons and 13 All-Star nods later, it’s Kobe who’s playing the part of NBA legend.

Even as the years go on and the talent pool in the NBA continues to widen, it’s #24 who still drew the largest crowd during today’s post-practice media session. By no coincidence, he’s also the one player that his All-Star peers look to more than anyone else.

“I remember Kobe’s first one; he was squared up against Jordan,” said first-time All-Star Kevin Love. “He had the 360 and then Kobe won the dunk competition in ’97. I remember all that stuff.”

As one of the babies of this year’s group, you can forgive Love if he’s still processing the sheer amount of talent surrounding him this weekend.

“I was talking to those guys in the locker room before we came out here that this is my first time and they’ve been out here like 13, 14 times,” said Love. “It’s unbelievable.”

One of those players is fellow big man Pau Gasol, who’s still in the middle of his All-Star journey, somewhere between Love and his Lakers teammate, Bryant.

“Those are guys I try to emulate and loved watching growing up, so being here with them, I just try to pick apart their game and hopefully get a closer look at them tomorrow,” Love said.

Doling out advice to rising stars like Love at All-Star Weekend is two-fold for players like Kobe and Pau, giving them a chance to reflect on their own All-Star history, too.

“Obviously, it’s a great compliment that the young guys try to emulate you and do the things you do out there—especially young talented players who have the potential to be terrific players,” said Gasol, whose first All-Star appearance in 2006 was soured due to an illness that forced him to miss most of the weekend’s activities.

“I was in bed the whole weekend,” Gasol said. “I missed practice, I missed everything, but I had to play no matter what. But I played—I played 13 to 14 minutes and I got like 12 boards or something. I didn’t score one point, but I had a good time. I told myself I had to give myself another chance to actually get to enjoy another All-Star game.”

Five years the wiser, Pau’s given himself plenty of additional chances, making it to three consecutive All-Star games, while joining Bryant on the list of regular All-Star veterans — an achievement not lost on the seven-footer.

“It’s a big opportunity to have this great party—this great basketball party—here at home with the locals. It’s really an honor,” said Gasol.

For the Lakers duo, there’s nothing jaded about this weekend. Even after back-to-back NBA titles and whispers from Father Time, Kobe and Pau will approach tomorrow’s All-Star game with every bit as much fire and anticipation as Kevin Love.

“This one’s a little bit more special,” said Bryant. “For a player to have an All-Star game in his home town twice is pretty cool.”