From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: On two levels, the Lakers’ second unit showed up during the 87-78 Game 2 win over the Hornets. They showed up literally, in that everybody was present and accounted for. Steve Blake was back in uniform after a battle with the chicken pox. And while Matt Barnes participated in Sunday’s loss, he made only a slightly bigger impression than during the final two regular-season games, which he missed because of lingering effects of a recent knee injury. Clearly limited, he played less than nine minutes and without his typically perpetual motion. On Tuesday, however, the small forward actually resembled himself.
From Joe Gerrity, Hornets 24/7: After another poor Hornets performance from the free throw line, one can imagine that Monty had the guys taking extra shots during practice. That would be the right move considering every player besides Landry is shooting below their season average from the line so far in the series. New Orleans has struggled mightily from the line, shooting a mere 66 percent so far in the series in their 65 attempts. On Wednesday they were particularly bad, making only 20 of 32 total (62.5%). During the regular season the team was better, but not great considering how talented Paul is. They shot 76.5 percent (15th in the league), and even if we ignore West from the equation, they wind up at 75 percent. The playoffs, however, have caused problems for a team that otherwise looks rather hardened under their rookie head coach.
From Beckley Mason and Ethan Sherwood-Strauss, HoopSpeak: Working: The Lakers are never going to shut down Chris Paul, but they did the next best thing: slow him down. They defended Paul with multiple, big defenders like Kobe Bryant and even Ron Artest, then pestered him with Steve Blake, who whore a headband to mask what I can only assume are terrifying chicken pox scars. If Chris Paul is a speedy boxer, the Lakers decided to lean on him all game, hoping to lessen the pop of his punch. Mission accomplished. Paul was able to make a number of outstanding plays, but all the bumps reduced his ability to score and put more of the onus on his less talented teammates. As an added little benefit, the cross-matching also forced Paul to occasionally defend a bigger, stronger player on the other end, sapping his energy even more. Not Working: Boy, what in the world is going on with Pau Gasol? The Hornets are doing a good job of shoving him off his favorite spots, but he should still be able to score effectively against single coverage from the likes of Carl Landry. After all, this is the guy who outplayed Dwight Hoard and Kevin Garnett in consecutive Finals. Bynum buoyed their inside attack, but Los Angeles needs to find ways to get Gasol a couple deep catches, perhaps off of cross screens from Artest or Fisher, instead of “getting him going” by isolating him on the mid block.
From Lee Jenkins, SI.com: Bobby Corbin was working in the service department at Fry’s Electronics in Manhattan Beach, Calif., when a 7-foot teenager approached the counter. Corbin glanced up at the boy giant’s stubble-free face and assumed he was a college basketball player. Maybe he needed help tricking out his dorm room. “You know how it is with those guys,” Corbin says. “They don’t usually have to do much for themselves.” The kid explained that he was looking for a personal computer, and while Fry’s carries half a dozen brands, he was not interested in any of those. “I want to learn how to build my own,” he said. He rattled off his desired components: a 500-gigabyte hard drive, four gigs of RAM and a graphics card. Corbin was amused and intrigued. He picked out the parts, and as he stood on one side of the counter assembling the machine, his 285-pound customer stood on the other and studied his work. Corbin wondered if this was really a basketball player or just a very tall techie. The next day a Fry’s colleague asked him, “Do you know who that was?” Corbin shook his head. “It’s the new Laker.”
From Wandabap, Silver Screen and Roll: Imagine I gave you the raw box score of the Lakers starters from last night, but withheld the score, except to tell you there was no blowout. Then you saw that Kobe Bryant scored only 11 points on 3-10 shooting, with 3 rebounds and 2 assists, and that Pau Gasol scored 8 points on 2-10 shooting, and 5 rebounds. Most likely, you’d think the Lakers lost, right? For the team’s two best players to score and shoot less than Kobe does himself on any given night, it couldn’t possibly be a good sign, right? In a Playoff game at that? In most cases, and probably for any other team in the NBA, it’s the makings of a miserable loss. Instead, the Lakers secondary stars and bench stepped up to carry the night, because they are the deepest, most talented team in the NBA. This couldn’t happen a year ago. Or even two years ago. Bynum wasn’t able to step up and carry the team without being a blackhole. Lamar wasn’t consistent and confident enough to put the team on his back. It always fell on Kobe and/or Pau. The rest of the Lakers fed off of them this time. As time goes on, no longer do they need Kobe or Pau to be All-World to find their own game. Pau’s slacking? Andrew raised the intensity. Kobe’s focusing on defending Chris Paul instead of scoring? Lamar took over the game.
From Eddie Maisonet, Ed The Sports Fan: Its all about what we perceive is “valuable”. Kobe’s case for MVP is a clear one. His effect on the game is astounding, the man is always lurking, looking ready to pounce to make another big play. Kobe’s as valuable as he is because he’s put in the work, and has the pedigree of winning. Frankly, it scares the shit out of people, and makes folks refuse to bet against him. Kobe isn’t all that different now than he was when he was putting up 35 a game in ’05, nor is he that different than when he was the #2 guy behind Shaq in their three-peat years to kick off the 00′s. We see Kobe’s value differently now that he’s got a supporting cast worth a damn and he’s gunning for titles again.
From Brian Champlin, Lakers Nation: There’s a look in a player’s eyes that he gets when he knows that he’s the best on the floor. It’s a cool air of confidence. A quiet determination that requires little boasting or demonstrative gesturing. Only the occasional fist pump after a big 3 point play. A glare after securing a tough rebound. Yet believing that you’re the best is no easy feat when you suit up nightly with the likes of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. When you’re matched up in the playoffs with possibly the best point guard in the NBA. But on Wednesday night, to the surprise of perhaps everyone but himself, Andrew Bynum had that look. Let’s get this one straight. Without Andrew Bynum the Lakers lose the game and go down 0 – 2 in what could conceivably be one of the biggest first round meltdowns in NBA history. Thankfully, Andrew was exactly where he was needed.
From Emile Avanessian, Hardwood Hype: So while my public suggestion that we’d arrived at the end of the road for the current era of Laker basketball may have been spawned by the frustration and short-sighted anger of an irrational fan, it may not have been totally off base. This is not to suggest that Kobe Bryant’s at the end of the line, or even that his days as a top-tier NBA player are behind him, but the reality- one that’s not very comfortable to think of if for no other reason than it reminds us of our own mortality- is that we’ve entered a stage of the Kobe Bryant that we never did with Magic, one that’s not been seen in Lakerland for nearly 40 years- the long goodbye. For the first time in about four decades, Laker fans are dealing with a (at the time) locally beloved, top-6 all-time player that, while still excellent and capable of playing at a high level for several more years, has slipped noticeably from prime. Where we are now with Kobe is where we would have been with Magic in the 1990s, had his career not been derailed by HIV. We know it would have happened, but never had to see it. With Kobe, we’re actually seeing it.
From Mark Medina, LA Times: The Lakers’ most consistent presence through two playoff games has come from an unlikely source, none other than Ron Artest. He’s averaged 15.5 points on 45.5% shooting and 8.5 rebounds in 34.5 minutes per contest, a stark improvement from the numbers he posted in the regular season with a career-low 8.5 points on only 39.7% shooting in 29.4 minutes per game. Artest attributed the turnaround to decreasing his workload of off-court conditioning and shooting exercises since the All-Star break, though he didn’t reveal specifics. “I used to be in the gym a lot,” said Artest, who averaged 15.5 points on 45.5% shooting in 34.6 minutes per game following the All-Star break. “I can’t do it now. You can’t be here shooting and wasting your legs.”
Lastly, I joined ESPN’s 5-on-5 discussion on all of the games being played tonight. You can check that out here.