Archives For October 2012

From Andy Kamenetzky, ESPN Los AngelesWell, this was unexpected. Not because I thought moving James Harden would be unfathomable for the Oklahoma City Thunder. I actually expected OKC to explore trade options if contract extension terms weren’t agreed upon come Oct. 31. I’ve heard people saying the Thunder should have just played out the season, then traded Harden in the offseason if need be, because you don’t break up a young, ever-improving core fresh off a NBA Finals appearance. I understand that rationale but, at the same time, you don’t want a potentially acrimonious situation hanging over the campaign — and perhaps bleeding into the locker room and onto the court. I’m also a firm believer that if it’s a foregone conclusion your star player will eventually be dealt, better to do it sooner than later. The haul is typically better –Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and some draft picks ain’t peanuts — and you’ve cut off any drama at the knees.

From Janis Carr, OC RegisterThe season hasn’t even started and Dwight Howard already has been waving the cautionary flag. The new Lakers center said fans need to be patient in the early going as the team’s chemistry comes together. “I know everybody wants it right now, right now,” Howard said Sunday. “But we want to win in June, that’s what counts.” Some of the anxiety stems from the Lakers’ 0-8 exhibition record combined with the high number of turnovers that have marked each game. Another worrisome factor is that the starting five have played one exhibition game together; a foot injury to Kobe Bryant and Howard’s recovery from spinal surgery slowing the process. “We don’t expect to win every game and be 82-0,” Howard said. “But we do expect, say by midseason, that everybody will have the offense down pat and we’ll be flowing.”

From Eric Pincus, LA TimesThe Lakers have unofficially decided to go with 15 players to start the season. Teams are required by the league to submit their opening-night rosters on Monday.  If non-guaranteed players Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre weren’t going to make the team, they would have been cut before Sunday to allow for the 48-hour waiver period. Coach Mike Brown indicated after practice that he doesn’t expect the team to drop any additional players before the start of the season. “I don’t think so right now.  I’ll wait and see what management says and ownership,” said Brown. “Right now this is where we stand.  For how long? I don’t know.”

From Trevor Wong, Lakers.comWith only one day separating the Lakers from their season opener, the primary question at the team’s practice facility on Sunday was whether or not Kobe Bryant would play against the Dallas Mavericks. L.A.’s co-captain is still recovering from a strained/bruised foot, and did not participate in practice again on Sunday, his sixth straight day of inactivity after initially hurting the foot last Sunday. “I don’t know; I have my doubts,” said Pau Gasol, when asked if he thought Kobe would be ready on Tuesday. “He hasn’t been able to practice for six days. He’s been off that foot for six days. It’s no joke; I don’t remember the last time he took that many days off. It’s a little concerning.”

From Ryan Ward, Lakers NationOne of the other additions to the Lakers’ roster in free agency was sharpshooter Jodie Meeks. With Meeks’ ability to be a force from beyond the arc and another offensive threat off the bench, the signing of the 25-year-old was a given with the Lakers’ need for a threat from outside. Even though the signing of Meeks was considered a move in the right direction, the Lakers have yet to see it pay dividends with the backup shooting guards struggling in the preseason shooting an ugly 26.7 percent from the field. Despite a poor start with his new team, Meeks believes things will begin to turn around once the rotation set by the Lakers’ coaching staff

From “Actuarially Sound”, Silver Screen & RollOver the last two weeks, the scribes here at SS&R have previewed all aspects of the Lakers. They have dissected the rotation at each position, analyzed the offensive and defensive strategies, and dived into the roles of the bench unit. As we have done in years past, when all this information is complete we then input it into our top secret super-computer to crank out the projected stat lines for this year’s squad. So for those of you who have yet to complete your fantasy league drafts, you can toss whatever cheat sheets you have for the Lakers players because here are the best predictions in the industry*.

-Ryan Cole

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  October 26, 2012

For your weekend pleasure, some random musings (and a couple of updates) from around the basketball world and, of course, the Lakers. Let’s get to it…

  • Dave captured the mood perfect in his Friday Forum, I think. We’re all a bit salty after a preseason lacking any wins. But saltiness is always best mixed with some sarcasm. Fwiw, if there were stages of worry (like there are with grieving), I’d be somewhere near the bottom of the scale right now. Over at PBT, our old buddy Kurt nailed how I’m feeling so I’ll let his words fill your screen.
  • I do have a couple of preseason thoughts, however. First, I’m more convinced now than ever that neither Andrew Goudelock nor Darius Johnson-Odom make this team. The decision was probably made before last night’s game but if it wasn’t we didn’t learn anything new about them in that contest that would change things. I wish both well and hope that they catch on somewhere. If they don’t I’d love to see them on the D-Fenders. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see if my inkling is right.
  • Second, back before the NFL’s Detroit Lions were a somewhat good team me and my buddies would always note how the game they’d host on Thanksgiving was their Super Bowl. They’d play as hard and as well as they could that day in the hopes of winning and were always more competitive in that game than in their other ones. In hindsight, I feel that every opponent (but especially the Kings) treated their preseason games against the Lakers like the Lions on Thanksgiving. They wanted those wins. The Lakers clearly could have played better and have a myriad of things to clean up going into the regular season (at the top of the list is turnovers) but I also think they weren’t nearly as up for these games as their opponents.
  • Also, by the end of the preseason it really did look like the Lakers would rather just have the regular season start already. We’ll see what that translates too next week.
  • If you’re looking for some good X’s and O’s writing, you should check out the newly created HoopChalk. They’re doing good work there. In the past week, they’ve covered Kobe working off the ball and the Lakers’ 1/5 pick and roll and both were detailed and well done.
  • If you haven’t seen the work that Rare Ink has done in its partnership with the NBA to produce some stunning artwork, you should do that now. There are some great pieces on display that would look great on anyone’s wall. Being a Lakers fan I gravitated towards their work on our guys, but a couple of my other favorites were the Payton/Kemp piece and the Nets’ Dr. J one. All of them are fantastic, though. Go check them out.
  • Another reminder to check out the season preview that the writers from Hardwood Paroxysm put out. It really is fantastic and includes some original artwork that’s also very good. Also check out this year’s Basketball Prospectus season preview. Loads of good information in that publication as well.
  • In another good read, Ethan Sherwood Strauss put up a worthwhile post at TrueHoop on an overtime classic from the 90’s between the Rockets and the Sonics. Brings new meaning to the term “6th man”.
  • Lastly, in a bit of personal (as well as some site) news I have a couple of announcements to make. First, you may or may not have heard that I’ve joined the staff at NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk for the upcoming season. I’ll be doing some part-time work there on more league wide stuff, including news updates as well as some long form posts. My most recent contribution is actually Lakers’ related, focusing on Steve Nash and his fit into the offense. This will not affect my work here and I will continue to post here as often as I do now (if that was a concern for you). But FB&G will not be the only place you can find my rambling this year.

Second, within the next couple of days there are going to be a few tweaks to the site that you’ll notice. The sidebar will be cleaned up some for easier digestion and I hope that also leads to some of the loading time issues folks have pointed out to me. A mobile site won’t yet be available but the tweaks should lead to easier reading on your handheld device.

The other change you’ll notice is that there will be some advertisements at the site. FB&G has not run ads in the past (for a variety of reasons) but that will be changing. I’ve never made a big deal about this before but the operation of this site does cost some money and that has pretty much come out of my pocket since I took over. In order to better make the site self sufficient in that way and to help out financially in general, we’re moving in this direction. I hope no one sees the ads as an intrusion and I can say for certain they will not affect the quality of the work put up at the site. But they are coming soon. I just wanted you, the readers, to know.

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  October 26, 2012

So preseason’s over, oh and eight. We got ‘em right where we want ‘em, man. I only have two slight concerns. One, that Kobe Bryant’s foot is in severe pain and two, that Pau Gasol put in 30 mpg during the oh and eight. I mean, I’ve heard Coach Brown’s explanations and I’m not saying he’s wrong. He’s the coach. I just don’t personally understand the logic… that because Pau plays so much year-round he’s out of shape and so he now has to play his way into shape even though he’s tired and it’s fatiguing him – because the very fact that it’s making him uncomfortable now will make it not seem so uncomfortable later. I mean, I think that’s what Brown’s been saying. And I’m sure this is designed to make Pau less fatigued when it comes time for the playoffs. So I’m not worried. At all.

Ramona Shelburne for ESPN is also not worried at all. Because for the Lakers, trying to learn their third offensive scheme in three years is really no problem. Plus there’s the seven new players and three new assistant coaches.

Janis Carr of the OC Register notes that even though this preseason was the worst in Lakers franchise history, they did manage to turn the ball over 21 times last night against the Kings.

Ramneet Singh at Lakers Nation take a closer look at the last ten of the Lakers preseasons. Just to put things in perspective.

On the bright side of things, C.A. Clark at Silver Screen and Roll says the chances of Lakers fans getting TWC Sportsnet looks bleak. Actually, that’s only if you live in SoCal and other nearby parts of the “Lakers footprint”. If you’re halfway across the country like I am, you can get the channel just fine if you want to pay extra. You can’t get the actual games though. Those are blacked out. Regional reasons.

Sheridan Hoops scribe Mark Heisler offers up his 2012/13 power rankings. Should I spoil the surprise and say where he ranks the Lakers? Nah. (Hint: I said it’s written by Heisler)

Melissa Rohlin of the LA Times writes about one of the true bright spots of this preseason – Robert Sacre, the last pick of the draft.

In non-Laker news, Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo Sports waxes poetic about the gift to humanity that is our NBA emperor. As Woj succinctly sums up, “The fear and loathing of David Stern will never end, and perhaps that’s what he’s always wanted.

***

Well okay now! This is the part of the post called the summation or the lead-out and it’s where everything comes together in a cogent explanation of why none of the above matters and the real season is at hand and things are about to get really excellent. Except that I haven’t eaten since a couple of frozen waffles at five AM and so I’m going to go make my lunch. Y’all have a good weekend now.

– Dave Murphy

The Lakers close their preseason tonight, again facing off against the Kings. The Lakers, still winless in the exhibition season, will try to avoid going 0-8.

I understand that the constant losing has been frustrating for everyone. The fans hate it. The players hate it. I’m sure there’s not a Lakers’ employee that is happy with not winning a single game to this point. That said, I think Pau Gasol said it best after last night’s game, saying “We’d all love to be 7-0 instead of 0-7. Would that make us win more games in regular season? Probably not.”

Like Gasol, I think taking the big-picture view is important here. Not to sound like a broken record but this Lakers’ preseason has been much more about process than results. With three new assistant coaches, a new offense and a roster that turned over by half there’s a need to get on the same page and try to build towards actually becoming a team. Taking some lumps on that path was a given and it’s much more important to clear those hurdles than be the team ahead on the scoreboard at the time the final buzzer sounds.

With that said, dealing with some of the variables associated with “the process” is where my frustration is most directed. In an ideal world, the Lakers would really only be dealing with Howard’s injury and subsequent absence from the lineup. They’d then have been able to work together sans (only) their starting center (which wouldn’t be ideal, but would have been expected) and start that growth process.

Instead, Jordan Hill has only played in two of the Lakers’ seven games. Kobe’s missed two games already and will miss his third tonight. Pau Gasol sat out a game. Those absences were not planned for and have affected the team in a myriad of ways. Most notably, the team has not been able to even scratch the surface on what a potential rotation would look like. Neither have they been able to examine nearly as many lineup combinations in game situations to be able to evaluate which groupings work and which ones don’t. There’s a domino effect to having key players out and the Lakers have had to deal with that more than anyone expected, much less wanted.

There are ways in which the preseason doesn’t matter and there are ways where you can’t dismiss things so easily. The Lakers not being able to get the floor time together, in game situations, counts as the latter. I’m not overly concerned about this, but I’m also not thrilled with it. The team will have time during the regular season to sort out issues. But by the very nature of that premise, the team will be going into the regular season a bit off schedule.

Even if you were a person that thought it would take time to find that chemistry (and I’m raising my hand here), we must acknowledge that the process — at least in game situations — has been pushed back somewhat. If you want to vent, vent on that.

————-

As for tonight’s game, there’s really only one goal. The players need to walk out of the game as healthy as they walked in. Kobe is already sitting out tonight and there’s now a question as to whether he’ll play in the season opener. Jordan Hill isn’t yet 100% and he’s a pretty important bench player. Steve Nash suffered a tweak to his ankle (that looked pretty bad) and no one wants a repeat of anything close to resembling that again. This team doesn’t need anymore question marks in terms of health between now and next Tuesday.

I don’t care about winning. I don’t care about 0-8. As far as I’m concerned, I’d love it if this team had a historical footnote of winning it all in June after not winning a single game in the preseason. If anything it would finally kill the concept that preseason mattered in any way.

Lastly, it may not seem like a huge deal but there is a battle to see what’s going to happen at the bottom of the Lakers’ roster. They currently have 13 guaranteed contracts on the team, leaving Andrew Goudelock, Robert Sacre, and Darius Johnson-Odom as the guys trying to make a big enough impression to be kept on the roster. At most two can make the team. For my money, I’ve got Sacre already on the team. He’s been a pleasant surprise and has proven he can add value to this roster. As for Goudelock and DJO, I don’t see either making the final cut. Neither has stood out and history has taught us the Lakers usually like to have an open roster spot should they want to add a player once the season begins (either via a trade where they trade one for two, or by signing a FA outright).

So, I leave you all with a reminder of the reality that tonight is the last game where the results don’t really matter. And in that respect, enjoy it. The pressure and expectation of performance will change dramatically starting next tuesday.

From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los AngelesLos Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown said Wednesday night that Kobe Bryant’s foot injury might not be healed enough to play in Tuesday night’s season opener against the Dallas Mavericks. “I don’t know if he’ll be ready,” Brown said after the Lakers’ 97-91 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. “So yeah, I guess there is question. I’m just going to wait for [Lakers trainer] Gary Vitti to tell me he can play, because there’s nothing I can do about it until they release him anyway.”

From Mark Medina, LA Daily NewsBy peering outside his office window, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has an intimate view of the roster he recently constructed playing in the team’s practice facility. He can marvel at Dwight Howard throwing down a powerful dunk. Kupchak can admire Steve Nash running a revamped offense that includes elements of the Princeton system. Kupchak can see whether his upgraded bench will actually provide improved secondary scoring (Antawn Jamison), 3-point shooting (Jodie Meeks), energy (Jordan Hill) and length (Devin Ebanks). The sight usually appears visually pleasing, at least enough for Kupchak to say, “we have enough players to be in the hunt” for an NBA championship.

From Ryan Ward, Lakers NationThe 2012-13 NBA regular season is only days away with the Los Angeles Lakers to set to get the ball rolling against the Dallas Mavericks on Oct. 30. Unfortunately, it remains uncertain how many Lakers fans might actually get to watch these games in Los Angeles this season with Time Warner Cable SportsNet still unavailable on major networks like Cox Cable and DirecTV. With the start of the season less than a week away, Time Warner Cable Sports released the following statement about distribution of the channel dedicated to Lakers coverage.

From Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN Los AngelesNo Kobe Bryant, no Dwight Howard, no Chris Paul, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, or Jamal Crawford. Fair to say much of the starch in Wednesday’s preseason battle between the Clippers and Lakers was removed long before the tip. Still, as you’d expect in any matchup between L.A.’s teams, it was a spirited 48 minutes. In the end, the Lakers kept their preseason winless streak intact, falling 97-91.  They now have one more shot at avoiding a winless slate of pretend games, Thursday night in San Diego against Sacramento. Here are four takeaways:

From Tom Hoffarth, LA Daily NewsMagic Johnson laughed Wednesday when asked if he feels he has been put into a position of talking Lakers’ fans off the ledge over their frustrations resulting from the absence of a wider Time Warner Cable SportsNet and Deportes distribution. The Basketball Hall of Famer, who will continue to work for ESPN and ABC as an NBA studio analyst, offered his reassurance that he believes something will get done with deals involving DirecTV, Dish, Charter, Cox, Verizon FiOS and AT&T Uverse leading up to the Lakers’ regular-season opener next week.

From Baxter Holmes, Los Angeles Times: Unlucky number seven? That’s how many games the Lakers have lost this preseason — in other words, all of them, the latest a 97-91 defeat by the Clippers at Staples Center on Wednesday. Of course, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard didn’t play for the Lakers. But Chris Paul didn’t play for the Clippers. The Lakers are 0-7 this preseason, their worst such record ever, and the team wraps up exhibition play Thursday against Sacramento in San Diego.

From Janis Carr, OC RegisterThe double black eyes ruined his “GQ look” but not Robert Sacre’s ability to fill in at center for the Lakers on Wednesday in an exhibition game against the Clippers. Sacre, starting again in place of Dwight Howard, scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in the Lakers’ 97-91 loss to their cross-town rivals. Pau Gasol helped pick up the slack left by Howard’s absence with a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds, but it wasn’t enough as the Lakers fell to 0-7 in the preseason.

-Ryan Cole

We’ll start with the housekeeping since these items are relatively important:

  • Kobe Bryant will not play tonight. In fact, he will not play in the Lakers’ preseason finale tomorrow either. He’s nursing a sore foot and will be reevaluated over the weekend, per Mike Trudell of Lakers.com.
  • Dwight Howard is also out tonight. He’s experiencing some “general soreness” but nothing serious. Before he made his debut on Sunday, there was talk that the Lakers would not play him in one of the back to back games. It turns out, it’s tonight’s. Reports say he will play tomorrow.
  • On the good news front, Jordan Hill should be making his return to the lineup this evening. After being out for a bit over two weeks with a herniated disk, Hill went through shoot-around this morning and is expected to dress for the game.
  • On the Clippers side, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, and Chauncey Billups are all expected to sit this game out. There’s even a report that Vinny Del Negro may rest other starters as well.

What does this mean for tonight? Basically that there’s little we’re going to learn about either of these teams in a big picture way.

The Lakers will again be missing multiple starters and that will again limit what we can discern from how they operate on both sides of the ball. Getting Hill back should start to inform us better of what the bench will look like when everyone is healthy, but as we’ve discussed the expectation is that any reserve lineups will prominently feature starting players. So, again, not having Kobe and Dwight throws off any advanced look at potential rotations.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t things to take note of while watching. With Hill back we should get to see him play as both a PF and a C. That should give us more insight into how the back line if the defense holds up with another defensive minded big in the rotation.

Hill’s presence should also mean we get to see a Hill/Pau pairing that lets the Spaniard get to the low block a bit more than he does when paired with Howard (or Sacre). On the possessions Pau has gotten to post up, he’s looked good — he’s flashed his jump hook, had some nice spins/drop steps, and has made very good reads — but he’s mostly been playing with a traditional C and that’s led to him working the pinch post a fair amount.

We should also get to see substantial minutes from both Jodie Meeks and Devin Ebanks on the wing. Meeks has looked more comfortable as the preseason has gone on and tonight, in playing for Kobe, he’ll get more burn. Ebanks should get some minutes at both wing spots and that should help inform us of his ability to play some SG in this offense.

Then, of course, we should also see plenty of Blake and Duhon and try to get a better idea as to who may be the back up PG. Not that I expect that answered tonight, but the more minutes both guys get, the more of an impression we can get.

Besides those things, however, there’s not much to glean from tonight.

For some fans in the L.A. area, this may be their first chance to see the Lakers play on their TV sets since it will be aired on Prime Ticket (who carries Clippers’ games). So, in that respect, I hope the game is enjoyable for all of you. Odds are, it won’t be as I would not doubt the team is 0-7 after tonight. Not that it matters. The games that do start next week. It’s those I can barely wait for.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  October 24, 2012

The preseason is winding down and the Lakers will face their co-tenants tonight, without Kobe Bryant who has been bothered with a sore right foot. Given his threshold of pain, it must be really sore. I’d like to deviate from all things Lakers to mention a piece of basketball work that is in a word, substantial. The group at Hardwood Paroxysm has put together a 2012-2013 season preview that is unlike any other you will ever come across. This down-loadable opus runs 130-plus pages and includes original artwork. I won’t bother to list all the names involved with the project but suffice to say they knocked it out of the park.

On to the Laker-type links:

Andy Kamenetzky at ESPN’s Lakers Report offers practice news, Dwight’s DPOY feelings and more.

Mark Medina at the LA Daily News reports on Kobe Bryant’s foot injury.

Mark Travis at Silver Screen and Roll has a nice piece about Kobe and Russell Westbrook.

Jeff Miller at the OC Register writes about a different side of Steve Blake, apart from the game.

Melissa Rohlin at the LA Times relays advice from Kobe to Dwight about injury recovery, ‘be patient, be smart’.

Eric Pincus, also at the Times, has a game preview for tonight’s Lakers match against the Clippers.

And finally, Adrian Wojnarowski from Yahoo Sports offered this on Monday, after Dwight Howard’s first game in a Lakers uniform. It was about the pranks that teammates played before Dwight took the court and about the emotion the big man felt when greeted by the cheers of the fans. Ultimately however, it came down to Kobe briefly clenching hands with his new center on the way to tip-off, with typically succinct words to live by: ‘Let’s play some (mother-bleeping) ball’. Indeed.

– Dave Murphy

From “Basketball Reasons”, Silver Screen & RollIs it time to panic? No wins, six losses, even with Dwight playing 33 minutes?! No, so go ahead and keep your Lakers flags flying on your cars. This is preseason, and the beginning of a very long journey for both the Lakers roster and the coaching staff. Through the first half of preseason Mike Brown was steadily playing lineups where Ronnie Aguilar and Reeves Nelson were featured players, so yes, there were many losses to be had. Quite frankly, the preseason is for the coaches and players to rediscover their identities, and this is a team that has plenty of searching to do with Steve Nash taking over as floor general, a widely new bench, and Dwight Howard having played only one game. Is it discouraging to not have a W in the left column yet? Yeah, sure. But there is good to be found in the Lakers preseason, and growth as a team is far more important than wins that mean nothing. 

From Mark Medina, LA Daily NewsA day removed from his first basketball game in six months, and Dwight Howard’s already focused on how to improve. Though he’s fully rehabbed from back surgery, Howard described his entire body as “pretty sore” and planned to receive treatment immediately following Monday’s practice at the team’s facility in El Segundo. “They said my back is going to ache,” Howard said of the team’s training staff. Following the Lakers’ 99-92 preseason loss Sunday to the Sacramento Kings, Howard graded himself a B after posting 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 12 rebounds and four blocks in 33 minutes. That’s because he committed five of the team’s 22 turnovers, shot 3 of 8 from the free-throw line and admitted rustiness.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los AngelesDwight Howard had a big smile on his face a day after making his debut for the Los Angeles Lakers, but he still feels the sting of how things ended in Orlando when he thinks about his trophy shelf. Howard was recognized as the best defender in the league as well as the best interior defender when NBA.com announced the results of its annual survey of the league’s 30 general managers Monday, but Howard still wants to know why he isn’t the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. “I thought I should have won it last year, to be honest with you,” Howard told reporters after practice Monday. “I was a little bit upset about that.”

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Who is Jim Buss? Not the next Jerry Buss or Jerry West or Mitch Kupchak. He is his own man with his own ways – preferring to analyze his way through a life that outsiders might assume has been fed to him via purple and golden spoon, figuring out which can of food was the best deal per ounce before anyone ever stuck it on those supermarket price labels, contributing to the Lakers’ success with his statistical analysis that he summarizes with confidence: “I use a system that has proven to be right.” Buss, who turns 53 next month, sat down for an exclusive interview with The Register as the Lakers prepare for their latest run toward an NBA title. “I’ve felt the last two years, we had a chance to win the championship,” Buss said. “Adding two Hall of Famers, basically, to this squad? To me, you kind of erase that ‘we’re taking steps’ idea. We’re here. Do what we’re supposed to do.”

From Eric Pincus, Los Angeles TimesThe general managers have spoken. The results of the annual general managers survey were released by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, and naturally the Lakers were heavily featured. Will the Lakers win the 2013 NBA Finals?  According to 70% of the general managers who responded, the answer was a resounding “no”  (they picked the Miami Heat). The Lakers did come in second, with 23.3%. The majority  (60%) agreed that the Lakers would return to the NBA Finals after a two-year absence.  The Oklahoma City Thunder received 36.7% of the vote.

From Janis Carr, OC RegisterDwight Howard was sore “all over” after playing his first game in 197 days Sunday, but he reported no lingering pain in his surgically repaired back. Steve Nash said his ankle, which he twisted Sunday, was pain free, too. That was the good news coming out of Monday’s Lakers practice, less than 24 hours after the team finally debuted its projected starting five. The downside? Kobe Bryant sat out practice because of a strained and bruised right foot, and Metta World Peace took part in noncontact drills only wearing a splint protecting the middle finger on his right hand. Both players suffered the injuries in Sunday’s exhibition loss to Sacramento.

-Ryan Cole