Archives For March 2011

Tonight is just one of those nights where the Lakers’ collective talent was enough to win the game, but you never got the feeling of this game being dominated by an obviously superior team. The Lakers’ inability to put teams away has been a pet peeve of mine of lately, and tonight’s game was no different. The Lakers held leads of 18 and 17 points at different points in this game, but the game never seemed out of reach, as the Lakers continued to let the Hornets get back into the game over and over again. Even though it never seemed as if the Hornets gained enough momentum to get over the proverbial hump, the Lakers never really put them away.

The Lakers got going early, getting the ball inside to Pau and Andrew Bynum for easy layups and dunks. Kobe saw some time in the post, knocking down short jumpers and getting to the free throw line by attacking the rim. Even Ron Artest muscled Marco Belinelli for a couple of easy buckets near the rim. Even though Derek Fisher wasn’t putting points up on the board, he had a few nice passes that led to easy points for the Lakers early on in the game. The Lakers pounded their way to a 30-19 first quarter lead, and really looked like they were finding a nice offensive groove going into the second quarter.

Unfortunately, the second unit went away from what was working for the starters and started taking jumper after jumper after jumper after jumper. During the first six minutes of the second quarter, the Lakers took a 15-foot or longer jump shot in nine of their 12 attempts. By that point, the Lakers watched what was once a 12 point lead, get reduced to a four point lead. This trend would continue throughout the rest of the game. The Lakers played fantastic basketball to open up the third and extended their lead to 18, but started taking more jump shots and watched as their lead dipped back below double figures. They, again, stretched their lead to 17 points, but watched as that lead was slowly chipped away until the Lakers finally put the Hornets away in the final minutes of the game.

Of course, not all is bad in a win. We’ve been seeing a more aggressive Kobe in recent weeks and he topped the 30-point mark for the third straight game for the first time since the end of January/beginning of February. What you have to like about his recent performances is the fact that he’s been really aggressive in attacking the rim, allowing him to pick his spots in his mid-range game, which in turn turns into more efficient outings. Also, he’s been getting to the free throw line at a nice rate. Tonight, Kobe was seven for eight from the free throw line. Pau also had a fantastic game, scoring 23 points and adding 16 rebounds. His mid range jumper has been outstanding in recent games, and was no different tonight. More importantly, however, was the fact that he was not only finishing around the rim, but he was finishing strong. He had a few and-1’s and a couple of dunks in traffic.

Andrew Bynum had a rough night with the referees for most of the game, but had a small takeover while out on the floor with the second unit midway through the fourth quarter. He had a nice baseline drop step that got him to the free throw line, hit a nice face up jumper over Aaron Gray, a big dunk off of a Luke Walton pass and hit one more short jumper before Lamar Odom came in to finish the game for him. Finally, Ron Artest had a really efficient game tonight. 4-6 from the field, 1-1 from three and 2-2 from the free throw line. He finished the night with three steals, and now the Lakers are 14-1 when Ron line in the box score shows three steals.

Overall, it’s hard to complain too much after the Lakers won their 15th game in 16 outings since the All-Star break. They got it done on the defensive end again, only giving up 84 to the Hornets. The Lakers have Dallas up next on Thursday.

Records: Lakers 52-20 (2nd in West), Hornets 42-31 (7th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.7 (2nd in NBA), Hornets 106.2 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.7 (7th in NBA), Hornets 104.2 (6th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hornets: Chris Paul, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry, Emeka Okafor
Injuries: Lakers: Devin Ebanks & Theo Ratliff (out); Hornets: David West (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are the hottest team in the league (or at least right there with the Bulls). That said, there are still things to improve on. Phil Jackson has called out his bench, looking for better play from his reserves. He specifically asks for better D and less turnovers on O and I can’t blame him. What I’m seeing is a tendency to try and make the big play on both sides of the ball rather than playing with a more methodical approach that’s worked so well for his starting group. Shannon Brown consistently gambles for steals by shooting the gap in passing lanes and nearly every bench player makes at least one homerun pass a game looking for the play that gets the crowd off their feet rather than making the pass that will simply progress the offensive set in motion. For what it’s worth, the bench players themselves recognize this. As cited in the article linked above, when Lamar Odom was asked about the bench’s performance of late, he pulled no punches:

If I had to grade it, the last 10 games would be a ‘C,’ and close to an ‘F’

Well then. While I wouldn’t go that far (LO is known to strive for perfection) the reserves do need to get back to playing within themselves more and running the sets on both sides of the ball. I’d like to see less reliance on perimeter shots and for the ball to stick less on the wing by players that want to dribble and probe the D looking for their own shot (that means you, Shannon Brown). Defensively, I’d like to see the big men better help when wings penetrate the lane. I understand that Pau and LO aren’t going to provide the same presence that Bynum does, but seeing players get all the way to the rim in both the half court and in transition is frustrating.

The Hornets Coming in: We often talk about the up and down nature of a season when discussing the Lakers. Well, our guys have nothing on the Hornets when it comes to roller coaster campaigns. From Chris Paul trade rumors, to ownership changes (the NBA ended up buying the team), to dealing with lease issues surrounding their long term future in New Orleans, this team has seen it’s fair share of drama both on and off the court all while holding on to a playoff spot in the tough as ever western conference. You would think this would be enough with the regular season winding down. However, they’ve recently been dealt another blow when David West landed awkwardly on his left knee, tearing his ACL and being ruled out for the rest of the season. Luckily, the Hornets had completed a trade at the deadline that netted them Carl Landry who for all extents and purposes is a poor man’s David West (they possess similar skill sets, West just does them all better) but that still leaves the Hornets woefully thin in their front court with few options to turn to.

With so many challenges to work through, it’s lucky that this team still has Chris Paul. CP3 is having another banner year and showing his leadership by putting this team on his back and carrying them home. Even after sitting out two games with a concussion, he’s come back stronger than ever, putting up nearly 23 points and over 11 assists (to only 3 turnovers) a game while also adding nearly 3 steals and over 5 rebounds in the six contests since his return. For all the talk of Rose as the MVP, Paul has also been fantastic and consistently reminds us that he should still be in the conversation as best PG in the league.

Hornets Blogs: Hornets 24/7 and At The Hive are two great team sites dedicated to covering this team. You should check them both out.

Keys to game: With our without David West, the keys to beating the Hornets are the same. The Lakers need to get the ball inside to Gasol and Bynum and let them go to work against undersized defenders. In Bynum’s first start of the year he faced off against the Hornets and poured in 18 points on efficient post ups and offensive rebounds (really, we tracked it). Tonight, he’s more than capable of doing the same thing should the Lakers get him the ball in the pivot against Okafor.

Gasol should also get ample touches against Landry. In the Lakers’ recent run, Gasol has been doing stellar work at the mid-post and elbow working his jumper and then countering with quick drives off ball fakes and tonight should be no different against Landry. Run sets through Pau and let him get going early, and the results should mean easier shots for everyone.

And that includes Kobe. Even though #24 has a distinct match up advantage over Belinelli, I’d still like to see him do more work off the ball to get his looks. I’d love it if he deferred early and let the ball come back to him later in the clock as he’s a guy that can get a shot off in isolation whenever he wants against the defenders that he’ll see this evening. If the ball goes into the post, Kobe can work off cross screens and flash into the paint coming off curls for easier most of the night. If he really does end up isolating, I’d prefer that those touches come at the mid post at the elbow when Odom is in the game rather than on the wing when both Pau and Drew are in there with him. Tonight’s game offers a chance for Kobe to score efficiently with minimal work if he’d get the ball out of his hands early. We’ll see if he takes this approach or not, but I’m hopeful he does.

Defensively the Lakers will need to focus all their energy on limiting Paul. He’ll obviously look to exploit the Lakers P&R defense but he’s more able to exploit the Lakers’ scheme than other players with his ability to knock down the mid-range jumper coming off that pick. Considering that’s the shot the Lakers are comfortable surrendering, Paul should get ample looks from 18 feet and a lot of the Lakers success on D will depend on if A). Paul is knocking that shot down and B). if Bynum/Gasol are able to lay back to deny penetration while still jumping out to contest that shot when Fisher/Blake get picked off in these sets. LA’s bigs will need to show discipline but can’t get over anxious in stepping out on Paul considering he’s more than willing to dish to rolling big men or jump into them and draw contact to earn free throws.

The other player to worry about on O is Carl Landry. I mentioned earlier that he’s a poor mans version of David West, but he’s also a notorious Laker killer. Landry’s mid-range game often gives the Lakers fits as he’s very much capable of hitting that 15 foot jumper but also has a very good ball fake that allows him to use his good first step to get to the basket. Gasol and Odom will need to honor that shot but not fall for his fakes so as to give up easier shots at the basket. They’ll also need to understand that his pet move off the dribble is spin off defenders and draw contact, so I’d love to see both Laker bigs keep him to one side and make him finish over length rather than allowing him an escape route to easier looks by allowing him to pivot away from the defense.

If the Lakers need to show any extra help on defense, this is one game where I wouldn’t mind seeing it come from the wings rather than the bigs. Outside of Belinelli, the Hornets don’t possess capable shooters (Ariza has been woeful this season from behind the arc and the separate trades of Peja and Thornton have left them without other wing shooters) so Ron and Barnes should have ample opportunities to dig down on Landry and Okafor and bother their handle and hopefully pick up some steals. Forcing turnovers against a team that’s led by Chris Paul isn’t easy (the Hornets are a top 10 team in protecting the ball) but the Lakers can earn some extra possessions by actively attacking the post when those guys commit to their offensive move.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start on Fox Sports West. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

The wins just keep coming.

The Lakers were able to improve their post ASG record to a sparkling 14-1 with a 112-104 victory over the Clippers. However, I’d be lying if I said that the Lakers played their best game or that this win was some sort of dominant performance indicative of how the Lakers have outclassed many opponents since the break. The fact is, the Lakers played well but the Clips hung around in this game, keeping it close to the point that the outcome was somewhat in doubt in the 4th quarter.

A few positives and a few negatives from this game:

Positives:
*Kobe Bryant poured in 37 points for the 2nd straight game, the first time he’s accomplished totals that high in back to back games since the Celtic and Rockets games on January 30th and February 1st respectively. Better than the point totals though, was the fact that he scored them efficiently, needing only 21 shots to get there while also taking a season high 17 free throws. Kobe did a great job attacking off the dribble and rarely settled for the long jumper if a sliver of space existed where he could advance towards the hoop. On several occasions he used high P&R’s in semi-transition to shed his defender and then used the bounce to get all the way to the rim where he finished around the Clipper big men. Kobe also worked well off the ball, using weak side screens to curl towards the top of the circle where he could get off his jumper cleanly. Best of all, though was how Kobe balanced his shot taking with picking out his teammates for open shots. #24 ended the night with 6 assists, but it easily could have been 10 had some of the shots he set his teammates up for got thrown in. Because Kobe’s own offense was going, the defense consistently collapsed towards his side and he expertly picked out teammates cross court either when spotting up or slashing into open space behind the D. On several occasions Kobe used the P&R and a diving big to draw the D in only to skip the ball to a ‘mate (mostly Artest) that then had several seconds to properly set his feet and fire away. Just a superb all around offensive night for Mr. Bean.

*Pau Gasol joined Kobe with a splendid offensive night of his own. Pau hit 10 of his 15 shots to score 26 points, including 6-6 from the FT line. In the preview to this game, I mentioned that the Lakers should go into Gasol early and often to attack Blake Griffin and that’s exactly what happened as the Lakers first basket was a Gasol jump hook after a strong back down move. Pau then proceeded to knock down jumper after jumper, continuing to show the great touch on his J that’s been present for months. I really can’t say enough about the consistent way that Gasol is knocking down his jumper and how it’s become a staple of the Lakers’ sets. He’s become nearly automatic from 17 feet and in to the point that when he makes the catch at the mid post then turns and faces, I pretty much expect the shot to fall as he releases that rainbow jumper of his. Several times last night he simply made the catch, turned, jab stepped his defender into taking a half step back, and then fired away with his jumper.

*Where Kobe and Pau excelled on offense, Ron Artest excelled on D. Matched up with Eric Gordon, Ron went into lockdown mode to completely remove Gordon as a threat to hurt the Lakers. Ron harassed all over the court, poking the ball away if Gordon for a second exposed it, bodying him every time he came off a screen, and completely shutting him down if Gordon dared try to isolate him on the wing. Gordon finished the game 3-14 from the field but missed his first 11 shots with Ron draped all over him. But it wasn’t just Ron’s work on Gordon that made this a standout defensive night. He also had the defensive play of the game when he made an open court steal on Blake Griffin with under a minute to go when a basket would have brought the Clips back to within a single basket. I think it’s safe to say that if Griffin gets a basket on that play this game takes a different tone down the stretch but instead Ron sealed the game with his steal. Offensively, Ron also had a game to remember. He made 6 of his 11 shots, including 3 of his 5 three pointers to tally 15 points. He also had an adventurous night attacking the rim, dunking a ball on Chris Kaman after a nice baseline drive but then missing two other attempts and thunderous slams when working in the open court. And while jokes about exceeding his dunk quota poured in on twitter (including one from me), I’m just happy that he’s attacking the rim with such reckless abandon.

Negatives:
*The non-Artest D could have used some work, however. The Lakers did a decent job of clamping down on the Clips in the first half, holding them to an offensive efficiency of 98.0, but still gave up too many open shots and weren’t stingy enough in closing down the paint. Early on it was Mo Williams pushing the ball up court after both made and missed baskets and getting good looks for himself and his teammates after collapsing the D on drives in transition. The Lakers did a poor job of recognizing Williams pushing the pace, didn’t build a wall against him, and instead let him break down their defensive integrity. And when it wasn’t Williams getting into the paint, it was Blake Griffin providing his normal highlights. At the end of the first quarter, Steve Blake shot a jumper that ended up missing but instead of hustling back to slow a streaking Griffin, Shannon Brown just stood and watched as the miss turned into a 55 foot alley oop to the soaring dunk champ. In the 2nd half, things only broke down further as the Lakers were too lax in closing out on shooters. Williams continued his hot shooting (he finished with 30 points on only 16 shots) and he was joined by Randy Foye in knocking down the open shots that the Lakers surrendered. Don’t get me wrong, some aspects of the Laker D was solid as Bynum did a good job of protecting the rim when he was in the game, but besides Bynum and Ron the team defense was lacking. There’s a reason this game was close in the final minutes, the Lakers just started to try and match baskets rather than stop the Clips from getting and making good shots.

*Besides poor defensive execution, the performance of the Laker bench was the other part of this game that was lacking. While the guys played hard, they showed little cohesion or ability to knock down the open shots that were there for them. The foursome of Odom, Blake, Barnes, and Brown shot a dreadful 5-20 and combined for only 16 points. Again, I don’t want to bury them as they played hard and contributed in other areas but it’s no coincidence that all 4 players were on the negative side of the plus/minus ledger as the Clips’ major pushes in this game all coincided with the Laker bench on the floor. Despite a couple of top 10 level plays – Odom had a great wrap around pass to Gasol for a dunk and Brown had an up and under dunk that rivaled anything Griffin did all night – it just wasn’t the bench’s night. They didn’t move the ball enough on offense and when they did try to make the extra pass it was a bit too risky, and on defense they didn’t have the same intensity or focus that the 1st unit had.

*This isn’t quite a negative, but deserves mentioning: This game was quite chippy. Blake Griffin was fouled hard on more than one occasion, including a play where Artest wrapped him up and tossed him to the floor. Griffin didn’t make a move towards Ron, but did give a hard stare to the ref as if he was looking for a flagrant foul. Kobe got hit in the face on a jump shot late in the game and looked none too pleased that there wasn’t a foul call after he finally scraped himself up off the floor. And then there was the exchange between Derek Fisher and Chris Kaman late in the game. Kaman set a moving screen on Fish and Derek proceeded to give Chris a shove after the play. The two had to be separated after the play and Kaman was unwilling to let it go, ultimately getting tossed from the game after he (seemingly) was telling Fish to meet him after the game for some sort of bare knuckled brawl. (Seeing Kaman mouth something about “being right there” while pointing to the tunnel was both comical and a bit worrisome considering both guys would be hanging around after the game. That said, I trust that Fish can handle his own in any altercation. I wouldn’t want to be hit by one of those arms.)

In the end, though, the Lakers took this game by making enough plays to win. At this point I’ll take the W and let the film session do the teaching rather than have the players forced to learn from a loss. As we’ve mentioned several times in the past couple of weeks the race for playoff seeding is in full effect and with the Spurs and Celtics both losing, the Bulls and Heat winning, and Dallas idle the Lakers were able to pick up a game on the two teams seen as their biggest threats and keep pace with the other teams that represent threats in the post season.  There are little things I’d like to see the Lakers clean up as the season comes to a close but with their current trajectory I have little doubt that the team is on the right track to achieve their goal of playing their best ball when the playoffs begin.

Records: Lakers 51-20 (2nd in West), Clippers 28-44 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.7 (2nd in NBA), Clippers 105.8 (22nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.7 (7th in NBA), Clippers 108.9 (19th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Mo Williams, Eric Gordon, Ryan Gomes, Blake Griffin, Chris Kaman
Injuries: Lakers: Devin Ebanks & Theo Ratliff (out); Clippers: DeAndre Jordan (doubtful)

The Lakers Coming in: Tonight the Lakers welcome back Andrew Bynum after he served his 2 game suspension. And while the Lakers continued their winning ways without Big Drew, it’s not exactly like they didn’t miss a beat. So, getting Drew back should normalize the Lakers front court rotation and give Pau a few more minutes rest. It should also stabilize their defense and limit the amount of switching the Laker big men do and limit how often the Lakers employ their SSZ look that they were forced to play against Portland.

In the end, these are just housekeeping measures as the Lakers really are rolling. They’re the hottest team in the league and their fight for the #2 seed not only in the West, but in the entire league, is surely becoming the focus. The Lakers currently sit a half game ahead of the Celtics and a half game behind the Bulls in a race that would determine who has home court should the Lakers reach the Finals. Obviously that’s a long way off with many, many games in between now and that end point, but it is something that we should keep an eye on as the regular season comes to a close. After all, I may think that the Lakers can win on the road versus any opponent but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t rather they have HCA against as many teams as they can.

The Clippers Coming in: After a rough stretch to end February, the Clippers have righted the ship and won 7 of their 11 March contests. After trading Baron Davis for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon, the Clips have found a more consistent shooter and a guy who’s still quite able to throw Blake Griffin lobs for dunks in Williams, and a situational wing defender in Moon. Both guys seem to be fitting in well and have given this team a bit of a boost after dealing the inconsistent Davis. The Clips have also just gotten Eric Gordon back from injury, appearing in three games for the Clips before tonight’s match up. Gordon has been a bit up and down since his return but did pour in 32 points on 21 shots in their double OT game vs. the Wizards on Thursday.

Not all is positive for the Clips, however. Starting center DeAndre Jordan has been out for nearly a week after coming down with pneumonia. And while Chris Kaman has seamlessly stepped back into the starting position that was once his, his offensive oriented game is a different variable to Jordan’s rugged post defense and ability to block and alter shots while controlling the defensive paint. Don’t get me wrong, Kaman has put up good numbers in Jordan’s absence and he’s shown that he’s still a starting caliber player – many teams would love to have his back to the basket game anchoring their offensive post. But his presence does alter the dynamic of this team as he’s another mouth to feed on offense, whereas Jordan was quite content living off the scraps of others by attacking the offensive glass and being active in the paint whenever the D collapsed on the Clips’ primary threats. All that said, there are worse problems to have than having multiple big men you trust to play in a game. Many teams would kill to have such “issues”.

Clipper Blogs: Visit ClipperBlog for great insight on the other Los Angeles hoops team. They do consistently excellent work.

Keys to game: This is the 4th and final match up between these two teams, so the game plan against them is pretty much set in stone. Offensively the Lakers do have an advantage inside and should go to it often. Griffin, for all his prowess as a weak side shot blocker and a guy who uses his quickness to pick up steals, still isn’t a great one on one defender and the Lakers should look to capitalize on that by going to Gasol inside. I’d love to see the big Spaniard featured on O and not just because he’s donating $1,000 for every point he scores to Japan in the aftermath of the tragic earthquake they suffered recently. Pau’s ability to get good shots both at the elbow and at the low block should open up the offense for the rest of his mates. The team would do well to let him be a focal point on O to get their sets going.

The other key offensively will be how well Kobe can work against a defender that has given him some issues over the years. Eric Gordon is not the tallest defender but he offers good length, quickness, athleticism, and above average strength in his stocky frame. This has often meant that Kobe can’t post him as easily as he does other shorter defenders (ala Wesley Matthews) but also can’t just beat him to his sweet spot at the elbow and elevate over him to shoot his jumper. This won’t deter Kobe from trying these things, but if Kobe hopes to be efficient he’d do well to work some quick passes with hard cuts off of them into his repertoire tonight in order to catch the ball on the move so he can get into space to get his shot off without having to use a dribble.

Defensively, the Lakers are in for a challenge just not the one most fans think of when the opponent is the Clippers. You see, where most teams have to focus their energy on containing Blake Griffin, the Lakers have had good success against him. When facing off against the Lakers, Griffin has only shot 36.4% and has averaged only a shade under 19 points. Both of these numbers are well below his season averages as the combination of defenders that LA has thrown at him have truly bothered him. Gasol expertly uses his length against Blake, sagging off him and tempting him to shoot jumpers. Then the Lakers throw LO or Artest on Griffin and they use their quickness (LO) and brute strength (Artest) to keep him away from his sweet spots and force him to shoot over contested arms. If the Lakers can continue this strategy tonight, I see Griffin having another difficult time scoring efficiently.

However, as I mentioned, Griffin isn’t the only threat. Gordon and Williams are both shot makers who thrive as ball handlers in the P&R and can both bury the open jumper if given a bit of daylight. The Lakers’ D will have to be sharp – especially in the P&R – and will need to invite those long two-point jumpers rather than allowing Gordon or Williams to turn the corner and get into the paint where they both finish well (Gordon is strong enough to get all the way to the rim and finish after contact, Williams will employ a little floater that frustrates shot blockers). This will put the onus on Bynum to show little rust in his return, something that may prove difficult considering it’s been a week since he’s played. Bynum’s responsibilities don’t end there, though, as he’ll also be matched up with Kaman, who is a much bigger threat on O than DeAndre Jordan. Bynum will need to keep his wits about him on D as Kaman is great at showing diverse moves around the goal, including a variety of step throughs and up and unders where he’s prone to go back to his left hand for finishes going middle.

Lastly, the other keys to the game are pace and rebounding. Even with Jordan out, the Clips offer very good athletes that want to get out and run. Mo Williams is very capable of leading a fast break and with Gordon and Griffin flanking him, the Clips can be a terror in the open court. The Lakers must balance their pursuit of offensive rebounds with getting back on D, so they can mark shooters running to the three point line (Foye, Gomes, and Gordon can all knock down the three ball) while also building a wall in the paint so Griffin can’t get a free path to the rim for his spectacular finishes. As for rebounding, Jordan may be out but Kaman is no slouch when attacking the offensive glass. The Lakers must finish possessions with defensive rebounds and then patiently attack the Clips in transition. If the opportunity to set up drag P&R’s in early offense is there, great. But if it’s not, then pull the ball back and attack with post play from Pau and Drew while working Kobe off the ball into position to shoot shots in the lane.

In the end, every game is important now and the Lakers can ill-afford to have a letdown against the Clips. As I mentioned earlier, seeding is on the line with every game between now and the end of the year and the Lakers have a chance to shape their path in the post season. The Clips will offer a challenge tonight but the Lakers can win the game with poise, strong D, and execution on both sides of the ball.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start tim on Fox Sports West & Prime Ticket (for the Clips feed). Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.

With the post season rapidly approaching, we’re nearing the point where the regular season awards will be voted on. Over a series of posts, I’ll make my argument for a specific Laker to win an award or be included on one of the All-NBA or Defensive teams. Today, my take on why Kobe Bryant should be selected 1st Team All-NBA.

For 12 years running now, Kobe Bryant has been a member of one of the three All-NBA teams. He first made an appearance as a 3rd team member in the 1999 season and also made the 3rd team in the 2005 season. Every other year since 1999, Kobe has been either 1st or 2nd team including five consecutive seasons as a Guard on the 1st team. He’s a mainstay as a 1st team performer and in a typical season, this would barely be up for question.

However, this isn’t a typical season. With Derrick Rose likely earning the league MVP honors this year, it’s a strong bet that he’ll also be represented as one of the guards on the All-NBA 1st team. This now leaves one guard slot for two highly deserving players: Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade (or three players if you count Chris Paul – also having an excellent year).

So, what distinguishes Kobe from other deserving candidates?

Honestly, not that much. When compared to Wade, the differences are truly minuscule. When you look at their statistical comparisons, Wade scores slightly more, rebounds a bit better, and is better at blocking shots. Meanwhile, Kobe has slightly better assist numbers, makes more three pointers (while also shooting a higher %), shoots a better % at the FT line, and boasts slightly lower turnover numbers. The advanced stats tell a similar story in that Wade is a bit more efficient but not by such a margin that it’s clear he’s had the better year.

When you add Paul to the mix, you see that Paul is clearly superior in terms of assists but suffers in scoring and rebounding. Paul edges out both players in terms of efficiency – besting both in PER and in win shares – but not at a level that screams he’s having a superior season. If anything I think comparing Paul (a PG) to Kobe/Wade (SG’s) is a bit too much of an apples to oranges comparison (I think comparing Rose to Paul would be the much better comparison) but I wanted to include him here because he is having another stellar campaign and he should be considered when deciding who makes 1st team.

Even with all of these stats, however, I’m think that Kobe has had the better year, if only slightly.

Maybe this comes from me having seen much more of Kobe than I have of the other players, but I think he deserves the nod for the campaign that he’s having. Granted, he’s not performing at an MVP level, but he’s actually quite close. Even though he’s playing reduced minutes (his lowest amount since his rookie season) his statistical output is top shelf. And since he’s not even playing 36 minutes a game, his per 36 minute averages take a slight jump to the point where he can be  compared even more favorably to Wade (with Kobe averaging more points and the rebounding difference shrinking). Plus, Kobe’s numbers pretty much line up with what Rose is doing on a nightly basis, tallying less assists per 36 minutes but besting the Bull’s PG in points and rebounds while shooting a higher percentage from the floor and having a higher PER. 

Lastly, Kobe is performing better in the clutch  than Wade and Paul. Based off 82games.com’s sortable clutch stats, Kobe is scoring more than double Paul, shooting a higher FG%, rebounding more, and assisting only slightly less. Meanwhile, Kobe also bests Wade in scoring, FG%, assists, FT attempts, and FT% in these “clutch” situations. Granted, Kobe takes more shots than these players, but I think that’s negated by the fact that he’s scoring more efficiently in this period than those two. Down the stretch of a close game – a circumstance and part of the game where Kobe’s play earns him a fare share of criticism – he’s simply doing more than the other players that he’s likely fighting with for this honor.

In the end, Kobe’s numbers may not be clearly superior but I think he deserves the 1st team nod. When you combine his overall numbers, his impact for his team, his performance in the clutch, and the fact that he’s played in all 71 of his team’s games (something I have not raised and that can’t be said for Wade/Paul), I think he edges them out. I know we’re partisan voters here and we’d all like to see Kobe be named to his 6th straight All-NBA 1st team, but I truly think he’s earned it. How about you?

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: For Lamar Odom, the emotions immediately following a 139-137 triple overtime win over the Suns were bittersweet. On one hand, he was happy with the outcome , and for the most part, his performance was excellent. On the other hand, Odom committed a critical — and avoidable — shooting foul against Channing Frye behind the arc with 1.1 seconds left in the first bonus period. Frye drained all three freebies to force a 121-121 tie and force another five (and by extension, 10) minutes of play.  Even in the face of victory, LO couldn’t get past placing his team in such jeopardy. “I will remember the foul call,” said Odom afterward. “I always tell you guys basketball is a humbling experience. Because I can think about throughout the game, ‘Yeah, I’m playing good. I’m having a good one.’ And then, right before you know it, I’m the dope.”

From Sebastian Pruiti, The Basketball Jones: Like last week, this week’s Savvy/Shabby is going to take a look at late game execution. However, this week is a little bit different, because instead of looking at late game execution on offense, we are going to be taking a look at late game execution on defense. First, we’ll going to look at a stop the Lakers got in triple overtime that helped them finally pull away from the Suns. Then we’ll look at a curious foul taken by the Utah Jazz in a one-possession game. Lakers Get A Stop After a big Kobe Bryant three-point shot, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves up by one with two minutes to go. On the next possession, the Suns went to their bread-and-butter: the pick-and-roll. The Lakers were able to get a stop and turn it  into two transition points.

From Zach Lowe, The Point Forward: When Jerry West popped by SI.com’s office on Wednesday for a brief chat about his struggles with atrial fibrillation and some NBA issues in the news, I wanted most to hear him talk about the NBA’s current labor situation even though I could have asked him questions about the 1969 Finals all afternoon. West is in a very unique position to discuss both the relationship between players and owners and the competitive balance between large- and small-market teams. Most of you know that West served as the top personnel guy for one of the league’s richest teams (the Lakers, where he presided over seven titles, the signing of Shaquille O’Neal and the semi-controversial drafting of Kobe Bryant) and the small-market Grizzlies, where he nabbed Pau Gasol and pushed the team into the playoffs.

From Kenny Masendy, Ed The Sports Fan: Also, there is something to be said if clutch is a trait that can be developed. Sure, you have to possess the ability to make a play at the end of a game, but is there something to be said about picking your spots, when to attack, when to lay off, when to shoot, pass, penetrate, etc? To me, there is, and when you have invaluable resources at your disposal, all it can do is enhance your ability to be great at the end of a close game. Case in point, Kobe Bryant, and the endless amount of resources he’s had over the past 15 years that have contributed to him being the killer we see on the court today. When it comes to taking a shot, there is not anyone I want to shoot more than Kobe Bryant, but it is not because I solely think he’ll make it. No, it is because I know he is not scared, whatsoever, to take any kind of shot and live with the result. That is something that cannot be measured by how many he has made or missed. The man is not afraid to take any type of shot there is to win a game, and if you think that’s not a big deal, watch enough basketball and see how many times these dudes pass up on wide open shots to finish a game, simply because they don’t have the balls to shoot.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Rewind, fast forward, pause or freeze frame any highlight reel of the Lakers’ 139-137 triple overtime victory Tuesday over the Phoenix Suns. Regardless of any clip you stumble upon, plenty of them will emerge that show the 18,997 at Staples Center waving yellow “Los Lakers” towels in a never-ending roller coaster ride. There was excitement: Kobe Bryant’s made a pull-up jumper over Channing Frye that clinched the victory. Ron Artest’s somehow leapt for a one-handed dunk. And Lamar Odom provided enough coast-to-coast drives to leave him wanting to eat pancakes afterwards. There was tension: Pau Gasol made two free throws forced triple overtime, Derek Fisher’s hit two free throws to give the Lakers a three-point lead before Phoenix extended to double overtime. And Odom’s foul that gave Frye three foul shots to force extra regulation left many biting their fingernails.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: Lamar Odom presumably got his pancakes. Maybe Phil Jackson finally got some sleep. The Lakers were told to stay home Wednesday, a much-deserved rest after their first triple-overtime game in Los Angeles since 1969. Even though the Phoenix Suns came in with a mediocre 35-33 record and managed to rip through a 21-point deficit, the Lakers were dramatic, even convincing, with their win-at-all-costs mindset without Andrew Bynum. Lakers 139, Phoenix 137, triple overtime. “My takeaway from all of that is the rest of the NBA needs to get ready,” TNT analyst Chris Webber said. “We always talk about Kobe [Bryant] is old, we talk about everything else. You can talk about the roller coaster this year, but these guys are for real and the NBA needs to take note.”

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: Since Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol represented L.A. on February 17-21, the Lakers have won 13 of the 14 games they’ve played, including six on the road and all seven at STAPLES Center, a winning rate of .928. They’ve done it primarily with excellent defense, allowing 100+ points only twice, both times in overtime games at Portland (106-101) and in the triple OT offensive thriller against Phoenix on Tuesday night (139-137). With 11 more games to play, L.A. has a chance to improve upon the 30-4 mark established by Phil Jackson’s Lakers in his first season in Los Angeles. That .882 success rate is the highest of Jackson’s tenure:

As we’re all aware, Andrew Bynum has missed the last two Laker games due to suspension. He leveled an airborne player, that player crashed to the ground, Bynum was ejected and suspended two additional games as extra punishment. There are various ways to look at the foul and subsequent suspension but I’m not here to argue those points. I understand that some are, essentially, okay with what Bynum did (for a variety of reasons) but I am not one of those people. We can agree to disagree if you’re on the other side of this debate. I’m perfectly okay with that.

Again, though, I’m not here to discuss Bynum as tough guy/dirty player/enforcer. There are bigger things to focus on, like how the Lakers played in his absence and why it’s now more clear than ever that the Lakers need him playing well to achieve their ultimate goal this season.

Earlier in the year when Bynum was missing games while recovering from his knee injury, the Lakers suffered for it. That said, they suffered not from any contributions he was providing but rather because the Lakers needed bodies. I feel entirely comfortable in saying that during Bynum’s absence early in the year the team suffered more because it forced heavy minutes onto Pau and his play dipped because of it. The fact that Theo Ratliff was injured and Phil didn’t trust rookie Derrick Caracter to perform in spot duty meant that Gasol carried an inordinate load on both sides of the ball and he started to play worse due to the increased wear.

Essentially, Bynum’s absence created a domino effect that the Lakers, and Pau specifically, had trouble dealing with.

However, in these last two games with Bynum out, the Lakers not only saw that same domino effect (Pau was inefficienct offensively in both games – shooting 15-40 while scoring 38 points – while still doing a good job in rebounding – totalling 26 in the two games) but we also saw how much the team really missed Bynum.

With the restructuring of the Lakers defensive sets to capitalize on Bynum’s sheer size and ability to block and alter shots, the fact that Bynum is out makes it so the Lakers clearly lose something on defense. Against both the Blazers and the Suns the Lakers found themselves scrambling on D and switching big men onto guards/wings more often than in recent games with Bynum available. This switching led to more mismatches all over the court that the Lakers had difficulty dealing with. Just look at a lot of the open jumpers that Nic Batum got or how Gasol ended up switching onto Nash late in the Suns game. These are only two examples but they’re reflective of how the Lakers scheme was compromised in order to better cover for each other – something that we saw much less of with Bynum playing.

I understand two games is a small sample size and that what I’ve desribed could be chalked up to sample size or the opponent. After all, Phoenix with their uptempo P&R heavy offense and Portland with their slow down screen and post centric sets offer two of the more polarizing styles that a team could face in back to back games. That said, when the same trends pop up in both match ups, I think it’s fair to say that it may not be the opponent, but rather the Lakers style that’s dictating what’s seen. And what we saw was a team – despite some good defensive numbers against Portland – that wasn’t playing that same peak level D as it was with Bynum available. And since this team will go as far as their defense takes them, I think this is important to note.

At this point, I’m just happy that Bynum is coming back on Friday. Without him, the Lakers are an excellent team that has just as good a shot to win the title as the Bulls, Spurs, and Celtics. With him playing – especially at the level he was playing at before his suspension – I think the Lakers are the favorites. So while I’m happy for the wins that the Lakers got while Bynum sat out, I’m more excited about the wins they hope to get when he’s back in the fold. And based off some of the little things I saw with him out, his value may mean plenty of them.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Lamar Odom (Save the Absolutely Inexcusable Last-Second Foul on Channing Frye in OT… see below). From a more macro view, when the Lakers re-signed Lamar Odom a couple of summers back, it helped bring last year’s title and may very well have unknowingly aided in perhaps the greatest flurry of movement in high-end player talent the league has ever seen. In the micro, having Odom around came in awfully handy Tuesday night. With Andrew Bynum serving the second game of his two game ban, L.O. was a monster all over the floor. Odom was inside; he was outside. He ran the floor, he scored and distributed. And while was the jumper working — Odom had everything working, really — as his shot chart indicates, he was extremely effective getting himself to the bucket.

From Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: There’s a reason they call this time of year March Madness. The Suns and Lakers played a game as wild as anything we saw in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, with the Lakers finally prevailing 139-137 in triple overtime of a contest neither team deserved to lose. In a game of twists and turns, this one turned definitively when Grant Hill fouled out with 2:18 remaining in the third overtime after committing his second foul of the possession in a span of 12 seconds defending Kobe Bryant with the Suns up two. After a very physical trio of overtimes in which the refs really let both sides play, I was shocked that they would foul Hill out on a play with a minuscule bit of body contact that happens on every play that was followed by a Kobe dive into the baseline for dramatic effect.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: I needed that game.  I think we all did.  After the traveshamockery that was the first game of TNT’s special Tuesday night doubleheader, the NBA needed this, and I for one was glad that went on as long as it did.  I wanted overtime when the score was tied at the end of regulation and the Phoenix Suns had the final shot.  I wanted triple overtime when Pau Gasol was fouled with 2.5 seconds left and the Los Angeles Lakers down two.  But I also wanted double overtime when it was the Lakers who were up three and Phoenix needed three clutch free throws from Channing Frye on a semi-questionable shooting foul.  I’m happy the Lakers ended up victorious, but I spent much of the evening simply rooting for more.

From Rey-Rey, The No Look Pass: Yes, the 139-137 final may indicate that the defense was porous in this contest. But you know what? Isn’t this what basketball is all about? Awesome shooting from both sides. Great plays by both teams. And there are even some defensive gems that can be found in this triple-overtime thriller. Sure, there are bonehead plays from time to time but put this all in one nice little package and it was the best game that I have watched this season. Let me break it down into different topics. THE NUMBERS: Laker shooting? 53/120 (44.2 percent). 120 FIELD GOAL ATTEMPTS. Phoenix shot 51/106 (48.1 percent). Both teams combined to shoot 68 3-pointers! Suns were 17/41 (41.5 percent) while the Lakers (who are not a good 3-point shooting team) shot 11/27 (40.7 percent). But Vince Carter (who missed two key three-pointers down the loooong stretch) went 2 for 13. Ouch.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: The longest, wildest night of the NBA season began with Lamar Odom racing through the corridors of Staples Center just after 6 p.m., a shoelace untied, trying to beat the clock and not be counted by the Lakers’ coaches as being tardy. Odom being Odom, as he ran past my left shoulder toward the Lakers’ locker room, he reached around to tap me on the right shoulder in the age-old joke trying to get me to look the wrong way. Odom wasn’t running as he walked out of the arena at nearly 11:30 p.m. Tuesday – his personal season-high 29 points scored, a Lakers season-high 55 minutes logged and one colossal blunder in Overtime No. 1 having not cost the Lakers a game that went all the way to Overtime No. 3.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Lamar Odom carried the Lakers pretty far, although not to the finish in just the fourth triple-overtime game in Los Angeles Lakers history. In the end Tuesday night, Kobe Bryant had the 107th game of his career with at least 40 points – although just the third this season – and Ron Artest rose up with four consecutive points late for the Lakers to secure their 13th victory in 14 games since the All-Star break. It was one of the thrilling games of the NBA season, the Lakers prevailed, 139-137, with clutch free throws on both sides propelling the game into a third extra session. The only other home triple-overtime game in Los Angeles Lakers history came in 1969.Bryant wound up with a season-high 42 points on 15-of-31 shooting despite his sprained left ankle. Artest had 18 points, Pau Gasol 24 and Odom his season-high 29 as the Lakers survived the second game of Andrew Bynum’s two-game NBA suspension.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: The crowd gasped in frustration, pleading for Lakers forward Ron Artest not to shoot the wide-open three-pointer. He did anyway. The shot dropped in the bucket, gave the Lakers a three-point lead in the first overtime Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns and the 18,997 at Staples Center reacted hysterically. In return, Artest blew kisses in the air, soaking in all the adulation. The image surely represents the never-ending anxieties and fickle relationship Laker fans have with Artest, swinging in frustration over his trigger-happy tendencies and distracted persona to admiration for his fearless mindset and goofball behavior. But the latter image was present all night long in the Lakers’ 139-137 triple overtime victory Monday over the Phoenix Suns, a performance that featured Artest scoring seven of his 18 points on seven of 14 shooting and one of his three steals in extra regulation with funny antics along the way.

From Broderick Turner, LA Times: Ron Artest blew kisses to the crowd in the first overtime after his three-pointer gave the Lakers a 119-116 lead. Artest kissed his biceps after his steal led to his dunk and a 135-132 Lakers lead in the third overtime. Get the picture? Artest was animated during the Lakers’ 139-137 triple-overtime victory over the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night at Staples Center. Why? “I kind of knew what the outcome was going to be, so I was relaxed” Artest maintained. “We talked about it.” It figures Artest would talk this way, because only he can sum up his play that way. Artest had seven points during the overtimes, three in the first OT and four in the third, all of them important.

UPDATE: From ESPN Stats & Information, TrueHoop: The Lakers last won a game of at least three overtimes on December 8, 1961, when they defeated the Philadelphia Warriors 151-147 in triple overtime. Tuesday marked the first time that Los Angeles ever won a triple-overtime game at home. The only time that the Lakers had even played such a home game was a 122-117 loss to the San Francisco Warriors in 1969.

UPDATE #2: From Trey Kirby, The Baskeball Jones (with video): According to GirlsAskGuys.com, this is why guys kiss their arm muscles: “It really is to show off. There is no reason to do it. They just like showing that they are big, and strong, and powerful. Etc.” So true. Trust me. But another good reason to do it is to celebrate the biggest of your four measly dunks of the season. It’s like Ron Artest had been waiting all this time and lifting all those weights, just so when the moment struck he’d be ready. Totally worth the wait.