Archives For November 2011

R.R. Magellan, also known as “Rey-Rey”, is the founder and editor of the L.A. based-NBA at-large site, The No-Look Pass. From time to time, he will take us back to Laker players of yesteryear, give his thoughts on how the player performed as a Laker, and how they are doing now. For more of Rey-Rey’s work, check out TheNoLookPass.Com.

After the 1992-93 season, I knew the Lakers were going to transition (I didn’t know that word at the time… I just thought they were going to be “bad next year”) into rebuilding (yes, a rare term in the Laker world). They had just lost a heartbreaking first round to the eventual Western Conference champs, the Phoenix Suns. I had just finished junior high when the 1993 NBA Draft came about. I didn’t watch the draft when it came on TV but I was excited when I heard that the Lakers got one of the main cogs from the then-NCAA champion North Carolina Tar Heels, George Lynch. I was also excited about the Lakers getting Nick Van Exel in the second round (my friend could not stop raving about Van Exel during his Cincinnati days) but since Lynch was the higher pick, I was excited about what he could do.

Back in the early 90s, we didn’t have as much access to scouting reports and the like as we do now in this age of information that we live in. But then, I knew nothing about basketball then… and I probably still don’t now. I waited for Lynch to have some kind of breakout game during his rookie season but he never really did. Lynch was shuffed in and out of the starting line-up for the Lakers as they stumbled through a 33-49 record (which included a 10-game losing streak at the end of the season when they were coached by one Magic Johnson). Lynch didn’t have a bad rookie season (9.6 points and 5.8 boards a game while shooting 50.8 percent from the field, which turned out to be his career high) and, for all accounts, was actually a really good season for a #12 pick. But my incompetent self didn’t know any better; I thought he would do more than this.

Then I came to accept him for what he was: George Lynch wasn’t particularly great at anything (I knew I should’ve looked at some sort of scouting report when I was 14!). I especially winced when he took a perimeter shot. But he was a decent rebounder, a very good defender, and hustled his ass off. I appreciated the hard work he did on the court. It was just too bad that his playing time started to decrease. Cedric Ceballos went to the Lakers in a trade before Lynch’s sophomore year in the NBA. Then Magic Johnson attempted to come back late into Lynch’s third year. Still, Lynch (who was shuffled in and out of the line-up in the 1994-95 season) managed to put in 6.1 points and 3.3 boards in his second season and he made big plays in the Lakers’ surprising playoff run. But those numbers lowered to 3.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in his third year as his playing time was practically cut in half from his rookie season.

It turned out that his biggest contribution to the Lakers would happen in the offseason that followed. Lynch was traded to the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies (along with Anthony Peeler) to make salary room for the Lakers. The Lakers then signed some big, hulking center. I forgot who that center was but remind me his name when you guys get the chance to. Still, I missed Lynch’s contributions despite his limitations as he did all the dirty work for the Lakers in the years he was there, especially on the defensive end.

George Lynch went on to have a decent 12-year career as a role player. His best scoring and rebounding season came as a Philadelphia 76er during the 1999-2000 campaign when he averaged 9.6 points and 7.8 boards per contest. He would be a starter in the 2001 Philly squad that made the NBA Finals, where they lost to, ironically, the Lakers. His last stop in the NBA was in New Orleans, where he played from 2002 through 2005.

As of late, he’s been working with the athletic department at UC Irvine in Irvine, CA. He has mentioned about getting into coaching. Lynch had mentioned how difficult it was to break in but I think he’ll be just fine. George Lynch did his job as an NBA player despite his limitations and I’m sure he’ll do the job, too, when he does break into the coaching ranks.

-R.R. Magellan

The Riley Prophecy

J.M. Poulard —  November 2, 2011

During the early 1950s, the Minneapolis Lakers dominated the NBA, capturing three straight titles. With George Mikan retiring and the Celtics drafting Bill Russell in 1956, the NBA saw Boston establish itself as the franchise to which every dynasty in professional sports would be compared to, by wining an unprecedented 11 championships in 13 seasons. Once Russell retired however, no team was able to win the title in consecutive years for 18 straight seasons.

Thus, the idea that a squad could repeat the feat from the previous season almost became laughable. The league had too many stars and too many great teams for one particular franchise to flex its muscles and conquer all would be challengers two years in a row.

Many felt that the 1985-86 Boston Celtics would have an opportunity to not only defend their title but also win the Larry O’Brien trophy in 1987; however with Bill Walton getting injured and an already strong Los Angeles Lakers team adding Mychal Thompson to their roster, those dreams vanished when Magic Johnson led his Lakers to the mountaintop in 1987 by defeating these same Celtics.

And then, the unthinkable happened a few days later at the championship parade when Pat Riley uttered these famous words:

“There aren’t anymore people in this world that deserve a world championship again more than the people in Inglewood here. And I’m guaranteeing everybody here, next year, we’re gonna win it again…”

Riley put the league on notice and essentially set the gauntlet for his team.

Who did this guy think he was? Did he just think the rest of the league would bow down, roll out the red carpet and escort the Lakers to the title in June 1988?

For better or worse, Riley agitated the world with his comments but he also challenged his team to be part of history. It would be up to them to oblige.

With the bulls-eye on their back, the Los Angeles Lakers started off the season with a 26-6 record, highlighted by a thriller at the Boston Garden where Magic Johnson banked in a long distance runner at the buzzer to give his team the win.

The Lakers looked to be on their way to dominating the regular season when a key injury struck in Chicago: Magic pulled his groin muscle.

Johnson would miss 10 games and the Lakers would lose six of those contests. Magic eventually recovered and came back but the team still needed to get back in sync. Nonetheless, he would help the Lakers finish with the best overall record in the league at 62-20.

Los Angeles would open up the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs and sweep them. The second round would pit them against a scrappy Utah Jazz team that forced them to go seven games. Ultimately, the Lakers experience and the home court would prove decisive in the seventh game as they would go on to win 109-98.

In the Western Conference Finals, Los Angeles would have to face a good Dallas Mavericks team that matched up perfectly against them. Derek Harper and Rolando Blackman would prove to be a difficult backcourt to handle while Mark Aguirre was a tough physical scoring forward that gave their frontcourt fits. Dallas would put some pressure on the Lakers but ultimately they would falter against a superior opponent in seven games.

The Lakers outlasted the Mavericks and found an unfamiliar foe waiting for them in the NBA Finals in the Detroit Pistons. Most felt that the Eastern Conference champs would prove to be formidable opponents but that they would ultimately succumb to the Lakers experience and talent much like their previous opponents.

The purple and gold would get a rude awakening in Game 1 of the 1988 Finals as the Pistons would steal the home court. The Lakers would rebound to win Game 2 and then Game 3 on the road but would lose the next two games and go back home facing a 3-2 series deficit.

Game 6 proved to be quite a scare for the Lakers as Detroit dominated the hustle stats by forcing turnovers and crashing the glass. Making matters worse, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was completely ineffective throughout the game, shooting a mere 3-for-14 from the field.

Los Angeles would take a seven-point lead going into the half but Detroit would prove to be the more physical team, imposing their will on their opponent. In addition, despite badly spraining his ankle, Isiah Thomas became so hot that one expected smoke to come out of his ears during the second half as he finished the game with 43 points and eight assists (with 25 of those points coming in the third quarter).

The Lakers turned things around by becoming a little more physical defensively in the paint. They would contest shots and limit the damage done by Detroit on the offensive boards. The change allowed for Magic to get out in transition and score or feed the likes of James Worthy and Byron Scott.

Thomas’ hot shooting would help his team take a 102-99 lead with a minute left in the game, but the Lakers had something the Pistons did not: Magic. The superstar guard would finish with 22 points and 19 assists, but more importantly, he would make all the important plays down the stretch to win the game.  He got Scott a wide open jump shot to cut the deficit to one point and then ran a pick and roll with James Worthy to get the defense scattered and then the ball went to Abdul-Jabbar who managed to get fouled and converted his free throws to give the Lakers the win.

L.A. had avoided elimination and forced Game 7.

Detroit would start off the decisive game missing close range shots, a sure sign of nervousness but would eventually get into the flow of the game and once again win the hustle stats. The Lakers would toughen up once again in the second quarter and fly down the court for transition opportunities to take a 52-47 halftime lead.

The Lakers would raise the intensity in the third quarter thanks in large part to their half court trap that essentially became a zone once the Pistons crossed midcourt. Granted, zones were outlawed in the NBA at the time and thus the Lakers were not allowed to play zone; but they were able to get away with it by using a smart wrinkle: they would use their most athletic players (A.C. Green, Mychal Thompson, James Worthy, Michael Cooper and Magic Johnson or Byron Scott) to essentially trap in the corners and then rotate and recover (they would also double team Adrian Dantley at the wing or in the post). The end result was that Detroit technically had mismatches at every position, but the Los Angeles players were all tall and strong enough to hold their own against the Pistons.

The Lakers defense blocked shots, forced turnovers, rebounded the ball and got out in transition to score and take a 10-point lead by the end of the third quarter. The Pistons rallied in the fourth but would ultimately fell short as the Lakers emerged victorious thanks in large part to James Worthy’s 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.

Pat Riley would prove to be prophetic as his team would repeat as champions and become the team of the 1980s.

Many more teams would go on to win back-to-back titles after the Lakers repeated in 1988. Here is the list:

  • 1988-89 and 1989-90 Detroit Pistons
  • 1990-91, 1991-92 and 1992-93 Chicago Bulls (3-peat)
  • 1993-94 and 1994-95 Houston Rockets
  • 1995-96, 1996-97 and 1997-98 Chicago Bulls (3-peat)
  • 1999-00, 2000-01 and 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers (3-peat)
  • 2008-09 and 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers

Winning two titles in a row may have become a little more common in the late 1980s, but let’s not forget which team restarted the trend. Riley made a bold statement and helped the franchise become one of the league’s greatest dynasties.

By the way, not that anyone is keeping score; but the last franchise to repeat? That would be the Los Angeles Lakers. Perhaps Riley knew something we didn’t…

Tonight should be opening night. It should be a time filled with anticipation and excitement. Butterflies should be in your stomach as we get ready to watch a slate of games that should have included the Lakers’ first home game against a prime Thunder team. Instead, there’s silence, emptiness, and depression. And though I truly believe an end to the lockout is in sight, I also believe stubborn blind men sit at that negotiating table grasping for everything they can get their mitts on save for the agreement in front of them. So, with sadness, I proceed as if there were a season starting anyway and offer up a game preview for a contest that won’t happen. This is what it’s come to for me.

Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest Metta World Peace, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
Injuries: Lakers: none, however Andrew Bynum is suspended; Thunder: none

The Lakers Coming in: A hunger in the eyes of the dethroned champs is balanced by an adjustment to new surroundings. Gone is the Zen Master and his calming, stoic demeanor. In his place is Mike Brown and his exuberant approach to teaching his schemes on both sides of the ball. And while those schemes will be different, the Lakers must adjust on the fly and find out what works and what doesn’t rather quickly. The personnel is mostly unchanged (the rookies and 2nd year players don’t figure to play a prominent role early and the season) and lends itself to some familiarity in the changed environment. And the hope is that the Lakers rely mostly on their experience and the drive to overcome last year’s failings. A year ago was ring night and now the journey towards having that feeling again begins.

The Thunder Coming in: Conference finalists only a few months ago, expectations are now through the roof for the Thunder. There are no more excuses of youth and inexperience to lean on; this team will now only be judged on achieving their goals of advancing further than the year before or not. The excitement of what can be is now countered by the real weight of what could happen should failure occur.

But this team is primed for a run. Kevin Durant comes off a whirlwind summer of showing new skills and refined polish in exhibition games around the country. He’s now joined in the starting line up by James Harden who also flashed growth in his game last year and over the summer in many of those same pick up games. Add in Russell Westbrook’s ascension into the elite ranks of lead guards and OKC now possess a trio of wing players that can compete with any in the league. Yes, there are division of labor issues that need to be sorted out – and quickly – with Westbrook needing to prove early in this campaign that he’s capable of being distributor and fearless attacker when possessing the ball. No small feat, to be sure, but a step he’s more than capable of taking considering his talent level.

Thunder Blogs: Royce Young runs a great site in Daily Thunder. Check it out for all the news and analysis you can handle on that team.

Keys to game: Much how NFL games are won in the trenches, this contest will be won in the paint. Perkins mans the pivot on defense and will play his typical bruising style on defense and when attacking the glass. Ibaka, fresh off his stint as the third big man for Spain’s national team, will protect the basket when coming from the weakside to disrupt and alter shots. If the Lakers can successfully attack these two and either get them into foul trouble or score with good efficiency, OKC’s defense will need to collapse and it will open up more opportunities for Kobe, Artest, Odom, and Barnes to slash into the gaps and do even more damage 15 feet and in.

Meanwhile, the Lakers too must protect their paint by containing Westbrook and Harden off the bounce and in pick and roll situations. Both love to turn the corner off screens and get to the front of the rim. The Lakers P&R D will be tested early and often by those two and discipline will be needed to corral them when they possess the ball.

This is complicated by the attention that must be paid to Kevin Durant. Every screen he comes off requires at least one (and normally two) defenders shift his way. Any clean catch could mean a lightning quick jumper is released or a quick dribble into the paint that renders defensive strategy moot. Artest World Peace, Barnes, and Kobe will have their hands full bodying him off the ball to disrupt his movement while big men must hedge and recover on off ball actions in order to close down passing angles. Durant’s improved handle also mean he’s even more a threat in isolation than in season’s past. He will try to defenders down with an array of cross-overs once not a part of his repertoire, but now a fully developed weapon. Everyone’s head must be on a swivel whenever he’s on the court and the D cannot let him compromise their sets lest they want their entire scheme to fall apart like a sweater being undone when the loose thread is pulled.

The challenge goes beyond just the half court actions, however. History tells us the Thunder will push the ball at every opportunity against this aged Laker group. So, the Lakers must transition well from offense to defense and not force the types of shots that produce running chances because of long rebounds. Gasol and Odom will be key in this as they’ll need to not only contest the glass in an effort to gain extra possessions but also bust their rear ends back in transition to help clog the lane to deny Westbrook, Harden, and Durant lanes to finish at the rim.

Where you can watch: No where. (sobs)