From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: First things first: The Lakers are neither scared of, nor unaccustomed to, defending the pick and roll. “Most teams see it as our weak point,” Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person told me Monday after practice in El Segundo. “For instance, the second game we played in San Antonio, they ran 79 pick and rolls. So we know what that system is. We know [Hornets] Coach [Monty] Williams played in that system. He coached in it. I was his teammate in San Antonio. He went to Portland, and they run a lot of pick and rolls up there as well, so he carried it over to New Orleans.” “We knew coming in that we were going to face Chris Paul and the pick and roll,” Person continued. “Over the course of this year when we played New Orleans, I don’t think it was a concern. It’s only a concern if you do things improperly, or out of the system that we determine is best [for us].”
From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: The Los Angeles Lakers welcomed back reserve point guard Steve Blake to practice Monday after being away from the team for a week with chicken pox. And they might just have found their secret weapon to stopping Chris Paul in their first round, best-of-seven series against the New Orleans Hornets that the Lakers trail 1-0. “[I’ll] sweat on him a little bit,” joked Blake. He is no longer considered contagious and was cleared by a doctor on Monday morning before reporting to practice. “[The Lakers] didn’t tell me I had to, but I wanted to be 100-percent sure,” said Blake, sporting a fresh white head band that covered up some of the fading pox marks that could be seen dotting his face, neck and arms as he spoke to reporters while wearing his practice uniform.
From Stephen A. Smith, ESPNLA: At some point, all things that evolve around the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t about the game’s preeminent star with five rings, a coach with 11 rings, a franchise desperately hunting for ring No. 17 or a city showing zero interest in achieving anything less. There comes a point when it’s time to get down and dirty, when nastiness usurps friendship, decorum or the proverbial team-first mentality — in an effort to win playoff games. And if that time has not arrived for Pau Gasol, perhaps he needs to grab a sleeping bag, call Kobe Bryant and tell the franchise player to make room: The Bryant household’s about to have a new guest for a few days. Perhaps just dinner will do. Maybe it will require a wakeup call at dawn, along with one of those 5:30 a.m. workout sessions.
From Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopsSpeak: I saw New Orleans beat LA, and knew it couldn’t last. The series is a foregone conclusion, so this game is what I’m taking. The playoffs are replete with thrilling memories of losers who staved off the inevitable, if only for two days. Cherish just the title winner, and you’re ignoring the best parts. Had I decided to skip Hornets-Lakers, I would have missed the return of Chris Paul’s life affirming majesty. I would have missed the kind of memory that will, one day, trigger a powerful nostalgia. I know this because visions of Chris Paul versus the Mavericks launch me back to 2008. An entire day lives on in my mind–the breakfast, the smells, the conversations–because CP3 threw a bounce pass. The pass was thrown on a fast break and it quickly morphed into a dribble. Backspin somehow tricked the ball into going back towards Chris in the opposite direction from which it was thrown. Jason Kidd’s confused body crumbled as a layup happened. My friend did something of an involuntary jig as we replayed the magic on DVR, again and again.
From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: At some point during what is still expected to be a deep postseason run, despite an inauspicious start in the form of a Game One loss to the New Orleans Hornets, Pau Gasol will play like the hyper-efficient, uber-smart, insanely talented seven footer that he is. Maybe it will be for a game, maybe a week. Maybe he’ll do it for an entire series. If the Lakers do manage to patch up their holes long enough to reel in a third straight championship, there will undoubtedly be a period in which Pau Gasol is the best player on the team. People will see this and think “Wow, that guy is amazing … he never gets the credit he deserves.” They will see his efficiency, throw it up in comparison with Kobe Bryant’s lack of the same quality, and come to a very logical conclusion that perhaps Pau Gasol deserves any individual accolades that come with being a part of a great team. This post is for those people. Please ingrain this message, and yesterday’s game, in your memory.
From Nima Zarrabi, SLAM Online: Andrew Bynum is going gray. It’s difficult to notice on television, but the phenomenon strikes me immediately as his 7-foot, 300-pound frame dwarfs the group of reporters surrounding him. He’s 23. I check his scalp again from a few different angles to make sure. Yep, still there—dude has about 25 white hairs generously spread across the top of his dome—a result of the weighing promise, potential and expectation perhaps? He speaks softly and with humility, deflecting praise and a reporter’s comparison to Bill Russell. “I don’t have time to listen to what other people are saying,” Bynum says. “All I can do is get rebounds.” He says this following one of his best all-around games as a Laker—a dominant 10-point, 18-rebound performance against the League’s best center Dwight Howard, including 4 blocked shots and the altering of several others en route to a convincing L.A. win. His body language is different, confidence high as he discusses being able to fully identify with his role as the team’s defensive force and dominant rebounder.
From GeauxHornets, At The Hive: Before the season began, how many of you thought that Aaron Gray’s status for a playoff game would be a noteworthy ESPN headline that you wouldn’t have to go sifting through their website to find? Sure enough, it currently sits in plain sight on ESPN’s NBA homepage, which in itself is a huge testament to the game that Gray played on Sunday afternoon against the Lakers. Though his season high of 12 points certainly played a major part in calling his game a success, it was the little things that helped the Hornets to a game one victory in Los Angeles. If the Big Gray Monster (BGM) is able to do make a similar impact on future games while staying out of foul trouble, the Hornets will be able to counter the Lakers’ size much more effectively than anyone could have predicted, and will therefore make this series a much more winnable one for New Orleans.
From Mark Medina, LA Times: The news was delivered to Lakers forward Ron Artest faster than a speedy scorer. His apparent indifference appeared as show as when Artest flexes his muscles. And his defiance sounded as defensive as …well, his defense. We’re of course talking about Artest receiving very little recognition for being remotely considered for the NBA’ defensive player of the year. Instead that award went to Orlando center Dwight Howard for the third consecutive season, an outcome so lopsided with 114 of the 120 sports writers voting him for first place. Scan the sheet and Artest’s name is found 17 spots below other players, including Kobe Bryant, who’s really sagged off his man and played the center-field position this season more than actually playing defense, but that’s a conversation for another day. Artest has had a few lockdown performances on Portland’s Brandon Roy, the Clippers’ Eric Gordon, Golden State’s Monta Ellis and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, with the sample size boasting more impressive than his frequent lapse in focus.
EDIT: Just came across this Kobe for MVP post at Ed The Sports Fan.