Archives For all star game

All-Star Game Preview & Chat

Darius Soriano —  February 26, 2012

It’s finally time for the main event of the weekend.

After a three point contest that saw Kevin Love take out two pure shooters (though, to be fair, both KD and James Jones looked off) and a dunk contest that should immediately be erased from our memories ala Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it will be nice to have an actual game to cheer for.

And really, that’s what today’s game should offer: a chance to cheer. While I want the West to win and would like to see good showings from Kobe and Bynum, this is more about enjoying the incredible amount of talent on the floor as a basketball fan. With all the best players in the league in one place, I don’t see how tonight could really be about anything else.

With that said, I won’t just be watching the action on the floor with an eye for good basketball. There are other things I’ll be watching for as the game unfolds:

  • How hard will Kobe go? Last year I wondered before the contest if Kobe would go after the MVP and my curiousness was well founded as Bean attacked from the opening tip and ended up winning the award for the 4th time. Tonight, though, will he go after it the same way? Last year’s game was in Los Angeles and one of the main backstories heading into the weekend was the Lakers poor play with Kobe’s play serving as a strong reminder that he, and his team, should not be dismissed. This game doesn’t offer the same environment or circumstances (though Kobe is close to becoming the ASG’s all time leading scorer) and I wonder if he’ll approach the game the same way.
  • How assertive will Bynum be? This is his first all-star game and there are often a heavy dose of nerves that come with that. Will he be consumed by the nerves or will he put them aside and show he belongs? He’ll be matched up with Dwight Howard at the start of the game but he’ll be sharing the floor with (arguably) the best 7 best players in the league when the game starts (LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Paul, Durant, Howard, and Rose in no particular order). With that level of talent on the floor, how Bynum fits in will be an interesting note on his first all-star experience.
  • Who will be the MVP? In year’s past, the home team guy has a leg up in chasing the MVP. His teammates look for him more and that guy has a bit extra in his tank to go after it. Will this trend hold for Dwight Howard tonight? His situation is complicated by his desire to be traded from the Magic (and thus the city of Orlando) and by the talent of his teammates (LeBron, Wade, Rose) who are all prime candidates to win the award themselves and put their stamps on this game. Personally, I think the MVP will come down to LeBron or Durant but I could also see Rose sneaking in there and taking it.
  • I wonder this every year, but who will take the shots down the stretch if the game is close? In year’s past, for the West, Kobe has been this guy but last year Durant hit a big shot in the closing minute as Kobe sort of faltered. Will KD be the main dog now or will Kobe still be the guy the West goes to? And what of the East? Will LeBron take the shot or play the set up role? Will Wade be that guy? Maybe Rose will carry over his role with the Bulls to the East team? I simply hope we get a close game so we can see how it all goes down.
  • What funky lineups will we see? I love the idea of a Paul, Durant, Dirk, Love, and Bynum super-sized line up for the West. I’d love to see a Nelly inspired Wade, LeBron, Melo, Iguodala, and Rondo lineup for the East where every player could handle the ball, create shots for himself or a teammate, and get out in the open floor and run a killer fast break. There are a million different ways to mix and match the best players in the world and I can’t wait to see what Brooks and Thibs do.
Obviously my list is incomplete, so what are you watching for? Is there a particular player you’ll be watching closely? A trend you hope to or hope not to see? Let me know in the comments and enjoy the game.

Welcome To The Big Show

Darius Soriano —  February 26, 2012

Making the all-star team is quite an honor. It may not be the same as making an all-NBA team (a distinction that shows a player is one of the best 15 or so players in the league), but making the mid-season classic is something to be proud of nonetheless. As Lakers fans, we’ve become quite used to seeing one (or more) of our guys suit up for the west squad. Kobe’s made the team 14 consecutive years as a starter. Way back in 1998 he made his first appearance and has been a mainstay ever since. For him, it’s become as much of a right as a privilege with fans voting him in for the better part of a decade and a half. This, though, isn’t the norm. Some players live on the cusp of making this team but never do.

I bring all this up because while we celebrate Kobe and his accomplishments it’s kind of easy to forget that another Laker was voted into the west’s starting lineup this year. Andrew Bynum is making his debut as the Center of choice later today and for him, it’s been a long time coming.

Long considered one of the up and coming big men in the league, the only thing that’s held big Drew back are injuries. Back in his break out year of 2008, Bynum was a surefire candidate to make this team before that horrid January night in Memphis that ended his season. The next year, the acquisition of Pau Gasol and another injury kept him from consideration. Last year his longer than anticipated recovery from off-season knee surgery kept him out of too many games and rustiness upon his return kept this honor out of his grasp.

Basically, Bynum has been the all-star big man that wasn’t an all-star. Everyone knew of his potential to reach this game and his production when healthy would have warranted a selection in several other seasons. The fact that it had not happened until this year was surely frustrating for him but also (likely) served as motivation for him to play well and stay healthy enough to show his worth.

Today, though, the goal will be reached. Bynum will jump tip against Dwight Howard in a game that features the guys the fans want to see flash their skills and the coaches believe to be the best players in the game. Today, the talk of Bynum being “an all-star caliber big man” goes from being a comment about what he could be to what he actually is. And for that, Lakers fans should be proud. Proud for Drew reaching his goal, but also for the fact that once again the Lakers have a young and up and coming behemoth manning the pivot for the team that represents the best the western conference has to offer.

And while this may be the first all-star game Drew plays in, it certainly won’t be the last. Because even though the age of the back to the basket big man is nearing its end, Bynum’s power game endures and will have staying power. Most of today’s bigs may flash games that stretch to 20 feet with face up moves off the dribble replacing the power back downs of a generation ago, but Bynum’s throwback style remains as effective today as it would have been in any other era. And with that style, he too should be a mainstay in this game (even if not  at the same frequency of his more celebrated Laker teammate).

So, take some time to appreciate how far Bynum has come. Seven years ago he was a pudgy out of high school kid that the Lakers’ brass took a chance on. The foundation of tools was there but needed molding before reaching this level. After countless hours of hard work and fighting through setbacks, he’s finally here. And, likely, here to stay.

Kobe’s First All-Star Game

Darius Soriano —  February 25, 2012

Tomorrow night, Kobe Bryant will suit up in his 14th consecutive all-star game (all as a starter). Sort of amazing to think it’s been that long since he made his first start back in 1998. Also crazy to think that back in that game, the NBA went with players wearing their own team uniforms rather than special all-star ones. Anyways, here’s a look back at that fateful day when Kobe made his first appearance as a starter when he didn’t even start for the Lakers and was in a full on duel with Michael Jordan (one that Jordan won handily, earning his 3rd MVP in the process). Enjoy.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP

In a season of record-breaking achievements, Kobe nearly added another one to his résumé last night, coming within five points of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time single-game All-Star scoring record of 42 points, set in 1962. Bryant’s final stat line of 29 minutes, 37 points (14-26 shooting), and 14 rebounds (10 offensive) was still plenty good enough to earn him his record-tying fourth All-Star Most Valuable Player award.

“It feels great, being at home here and playing in front of the home crowd,” said #24 after the game. “This will be my last All-Star game in front of these home fans, so it feels good to do it.”

For those of us watching at home or lucky enough to be inside of STAPLES Center, Bryant’s performance was a true sight to behold. After hanging around a noticeably light-hearted, jovial Kobe at practice all weekend, I’m not sure any of us really got the sense that we were going to witness the type of special display that we saw in the West’s 148-143 victory over the East All-Stars.

“I talked to him right before the game and I told him let’s go, and he’s one of those guys and he’s a lot like me—an ultimate competitor,” said Bryant’s fellow backcourt member Chris Paul. “I know the All-Star games are supposed to be fun and games, but at the end of the day, we want to win.”

No one wants to win more so than Kobe and it is that insatiable desire that continues to separate him from his peers, both past and present.

“You could tell he started out from the start, he wanted to get the MVP; he was not passing the ball, at all,” said East starter Amar’e Stoudemire. “But that’s Kobe.”

On paper, it sounds like the Knicks center is taking a jab at Kobe’s 26 field goal attempts (he made 14 of them, by the way). In the actual media room, Stoudemire’s tone was more one of reverence than disrespect. Truth be told, Amar’e has seen many a night like last night while going head-to-head for years against Bryant as a member of the Phoenix Suns. Other players like Kevin Durant — who up until a few years ago was watching Kobe on his TV screen — were left in awe.

“It was like playing in a playground,” said the Thunder star. “It was like a pick-up game almost. Just to watch it, I see it on TV all the time, I play against him all the time. But to be on his team and see the things that he was doing out there, is just amazing. As a young player like me, I grew up watching him, and to play alongside him is just an honor.”

Why any one of the media, fans or fellow players still wind up surprised when he puts on a show like he did last night remains one the NBA’s true unsolved mysteries, unless you’re West Coach Greg Popovic.

“He’s one hell of a player,” said Popovic, who’s been witness to countless games like last night from Kobe in the enduring Lakers vs. Spurs rivalry. “He’s Kobe. He does things like that. We shouldn’t be surprised.”

At this stage of his career, Kobe’s motor is more of a diesel engine than a shiny new electric one. Last night was just the latest reminder, though, that he still has enough juice to rev up the old car when he so chooses. After all, they don’t call him Mamba for nothing; Bryant perfected this play dead-and-strike act long ago.

“I joked with him today and called him the Old Fella,” said Durant, showing an admirable amount of deference for a player who is the league’s reigning scoring champ. “He’s been here a long time, but he’s still playing like he’s 22-years-old. You know, as a player, you only can hope and pray for a career like he’s had; a lot of championships, a lot of scoring titles. So it was an honor to play alongside a guy like that. So if he passes the torch on to me, I guess I know what to do with it.”

That day when Kobe will inevitably pass the proverbial torch to the likes of LeBron and Durant is indeed coming, but if his MVP performance is any indicator, they’re going to have to wait a while.

What a game.

Kobe had it going early, Lebron had it going late, and Durant iced the contest in the end. In between those guys doing what they do best, Amar’e threw down a dunk nearly any time he was within five feet of the hoop and was the East’s best big man for most of the evening.

The game started with our own #24 going to work on offense and showing that there is still some life in those 32 year old legs. Throwing down multiple dunks and getting good lift on his jumper, Kobe was in vintage form in the early going. It’s tough to choose a specific play to call my favorite, but his first dunk of the night where he went up and under the rim and threw it down with two hands was a highpoint for me. The play just showed so many facets of Kobe’s game…you had the great first step, the ability to tightrope the baseline, and then the spectacular finish all on a single play. The fact that we’ve rarely seen that explosiveness from him this year was just the icing on the cake.  But it wasn’t just on offense that Kobe was doing major work. He had a game high 14 rebounds, added 3 assists and 3 steals to a very good line.

But while Kobe was human down the stretch, Lebron and Kevin Durant were not. The self proclaimed King saw a double digit deficit in the 2nd half and decided that he was not going to go down without a fight. He turned up his intensity on defense, started to rebound the ball, and then did what he did best by pushing the ball in the open court and bulling his way to the basket. Highlighted by a classic LeBron dunk where he brought the ball what seemed like two feet behind his head and explosively through the ball through the hoop with amazing power, James was a dominant player down the stretch either getting his own shot with ease or setting up a mate (usually Amar’e) for a good look at the rim. Lebron ended the night with a triple double, dropping 29 points to go along with 12 rebounds and 10 assists. If there was a more complete player on the floor for the entirety of the game I’m not sure who he was. And considering how well Kobe played, that’s really saying something.

As for Durant, what can you really say about the man that has clearly become the most dangerous scoring threat in the league. While he didn’t match Kobe’s game high 37, KD did drop 34 points of his own making 11 of his 23 FG’s, going 8-8 from the foul line and throwing in 4 three pointers. But it wasn’t just the fact that Durant was knocking down shots, it’s the fact that he hit the big shots down the stretch. When LeBron was nearly single handedly bringing the East back to within two points in the closing minutes, it was Durant nailing a pull up jumper from the top of the circle and then following that up with a three pointer for a one man 5 point run that essentially iced the game. Two straight daggers for Durant and that was that. Really, it was a sight to see him step up the way that he did and seize the moment. It really is tough to believe that he’s only in his 4th season.

Despite this being an All-Star game though, every game needs some role players “stepping up” in order to get the win. For the West team, those guys were easily Russ Westbrook, Deron Williams, and Pau Gasol. Westbrook was tremendous going to the basket all night and had one of the better moves going to the rim all night where he left his defender in his wake by crossing over from right to left and then throwing up a lefty scoop with english that he banked home. Russ ended the night with 12 points on 6-12 shooting and chipped in 5 rebounds as well. Williams, meanwhile, didn’t shoot the ball that well (2-7 FG’s) but did everything else well tying for the team high in assists with 7, playing pretty good D down the stretch, and just being a solid guard when the West needed some stability.

But it was Gasol’s under the radar performance that most helped secure the win when looking outside Kobe and Durant. Pau had 17 points (a high mark for points in all his ASG appearances) on 8-13 shooting and also grabbed 6 offensive boards, none bigger than a tip in off a Kobe miss with less than a minute left that pushed the West lead back to 4 and ultimately kept the East at arms length. His final two FT’s pushed the lead up to 6 and that pretty much ended the game.

In the end, though, the game was about Kobe showing that he’s still got something for the league by earning his 4th All-Star game MVP award and putting on a show for the hometown fans. It’s hard to put into words watching him continue to have something in reserve and defy what people think he should be. Just a tremendous effort from him. I feel quite grateful that I was here to witness it in person.