Archives For February 2011

Around The World (Wide Web)

Darius Soriano —  February 22, 2011

Some quick hitting links today…

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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.