Following Kobe Bryant’s final season has been a bit surreal. After he announced this season would be his last, he has been showered with cheers, treated to tribute videos from NBA legends, and been as well received as he ever has been. Considering this is a guy who has received “MVP” chants in opposing stadiums over the course of his career, this is saying something.

But time is getting shorter. We are now past the halfway point, the Lakers playing their 44th game on Wednesday and their 45th tonight against the Spurs. There will only be 38 more of these regular season contests (starting tonight) and a few other moments to celebrate it all before it’s over. The finality of that hasn’t yet fully sunk in, but it will. This week, for me at least, that process took another step forward.

It started with the final tally of votes for the All-Star game being released. Kobe maintained his lead as the top vote-getter, outpacing reigning league MVP Steph Curry and the always present LeBron James. Kobe has been named an all-star every season the game has occurred (curse you 1999 lockout!) since 1998. Injuries have kept him out of several contests, but this year I don’t think anything could keep him from stepping on that court one last time.

Second, though, has been the build up to today, January 22nd. Ten years ago today Kobe scored 81 points against the Raptors. It is, for many, his greatest individual performance and the feat by which he will most be remembered. That was the night where it all sort of came together — him being incredibly hot, the Lakers playing poorly enough where his scoring exploits were a needed component for the team to compete, and the Raptors being just bad enough defensively to give him the room to establish his rhythm. It all culminated with him getting to 81.

In the lead-up to today, we have gotten the best glimpse into that night to this point. First was this fantastic oral history of the game put together by ESPN’s Arash Markazi. Arash spoke to many people — broadcasters, front office members, players, and more — who were all there that night and/or involved in some way. There were so many great anecdotes revealed, but one of my favorites was the exchange between Kobe and Brian Shaw from the night Kobe outscored the Mavs 62-61 through three quarters:

A month before playing Toronto, Bryant outscored the Dallas Mavericks by himself through three quarters 62-61 (the Lakers’ lead was 95-61). Bryant played only 33 minutes that night and sat out the entire fourth quarter of the Lakers’ blowout win over the eventual Western Conference champions. When he was asked after the game how many points he would have finished with had he played the fourth quarter, Bryant shrugged his shoulders. “Probably 80,” he said. “I was in a really, really good groove.”

Brian Shaw: After the third quarter, the players were on the bench and the coaches went out and huddled on the court. Phil asked me to go ask Kobe if he wanted to stay in the game and try to get 70 and then come out. So I went up to Kobe and said, “Hey, Coach wants to know if you want to stay in for the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, get 70 and then come out.” He looked up at the scoreboard, and he said, “Nah, I’ll get it another time.” I looked at him and I kind of got mad. I said: “What?! You have a chance to get 70 points. How many people can say they scored 70 points? Just stay in the first few minutes and get another eight points, get 70 and then come out of the game.” He said: “I’ll do it when we really need it. I’ll get it when it really matters.”

Kobe Bryant: Brian was mad. He was like: “Man, are you crazy? You know what you could score tonight?” I just said, “I’ll do it when we really need it.” Brian was like, “What?!” It was something that just rolled off my tongue because I trained extremely hard and the physical tools were there. I just felt like I could have a game like that again.

The concept of “I’ll do it when we really need it” is so outlandish to me, yet, when you listen to Kobe talk about his preparation heading into that season, totally believable and understandable at the same time. Friend of the site @basquiatball recorded a bunch of games from that season and let me borrow the DVD’s (I’ll return them some day, J.D.!) and I have randomly watched multiple games from that season. Kobe really was on a level that is hard to describe. He was simply beyond what defenses what prepared for.

The second tribute I really enjoyed was the five short videos the NBA released about that night:

Looking back at that night combined with this week’s news of Kobe being named a starter in the ASG really has reminded me that we are getting close to the end. Ultimately, this makes me sad, but also gives me pause to remember to appreciate what Kobe has done in his career. The first to approach Wilt’s 100 and closing down his last season, the memories of what he’s accomplished really will live on forever.

Records: Lakers 9-34, Last in the West; Kings 17-23, 10th in the West
Offensive ratings: Lakers 96.9, 29th in NBA; Kings 103.0 11th in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.7, Last in the NBA; Kings 105.9, T-24th in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert
Kings: Rondo, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein, Cousins

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have lost 3 in a row and 7 of their last 8. They are still banged up as Larry Nance Jr. will not play, but Julius Randle will simply slide up in the rotation and assume his old role as starter. Where the questions come in is whether Tarik Black will see any minutes as the back up C with Brandon Bass playing some PF or if Byron Scott will do what he did the last game by giving Ryan Kelly the backup PF minutes and having Bass stay as the C.

This is a game where it probably makes more sense to play Black, even if Byron seems less than enamored with the development of the 2nd year pro. The Kings are a team with legitimate size and can pound you on the glass if you don’t match up accordingly. Bass fought hard against Cousins the last time these teams played, but it would be nice to spare him from all that pounding by giving Black some run too. And not just against Cousins, but against Kosta Koufos as well.

Also, if you have not been paying attention, Anthony Brown has taken Nick Young’s spot in the rotation. This transition has been in place for a little over a week, but tonight will be an interesting test, especially since the Kings have two very different types of wing players that Brown will likely defend. On one hand, you have Rudy Gay who will try to post you up and work in isolation off the dribble. On the other hand is guys like Marco Belinelli and Omri Cassipi who do their best work running off picks and spotting up. Brown will need to be mindful of who he’s guarding and respond accordingly. I think he is up to the challenge, but we shall see.

Continue Reading…

Anthony Brown is a rookie who was drafted in the 2nd round with the 34th overall pick. He has spent a lot of time in the D-League, trying to get better but also simply getting minutes he has not been able to earn with the Lakers. He has played a total of 318 minutes and only appeared in 18 of the Lakers’ 43 games. He averages 3.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, shoots 31% from the field, and has a PER of 5.0.

The Lakers need more players like Anthony Brown. Wait, what?

Continue Reading…

Happy Monday, everybody and happy birthday, Martin Luther King Jr. Here are a few of the best Lakers-centric reads and notes from around the web:

Continue Reading…

So the Lakers have the Rockets on Sunday night. Going into this match-up, the Lakers have lost six of their last seven while Houston had their five-game win streak snapped by the Eastern Conference champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. On Saturday night, the Lakers were thrashed by the Utah Jazz right from the start. And that has been the problem for the Lakers against the Rockets so far this season. In their previous two match-ups, they lost by 29 and 20 after slow starts.

Funny enough, Kobe Bryant is averaging 23.5 points in those two games but we’re not sure if he’s going to play because of his Achilles problem. But one player who has been scoring well as of late is Lou Williams. He’s averaging 22.9 points per game in the month of January and the way he’s been drawing fouls has been, shall we say, James Harden-esque? Lou has been averaging 9.1 free throws per game this month.

If you’re hoping for a Lakers win, you hope that the guys in purple and gold catch the Rockets sleepwalking and that they keep a lead or stay within reach in the early going. But the Rockets seem to get up for the Lakers as evidenced by the two games they have played. In those two games, it was the frontcourt that has smashed the Lakers. Clint Capela and the ever-so-beloved Dwight Howard had double-doubles (not the In-N-Out kind) in both games and Donatas Montiejunas and Terrence Jones both had an impact in both contests off the bench. And I didn’t even mention James Harden, who will find a way to score 25 points whether it’s unlimited chucking or living in the foul line. The Lakers, just like most games, will have their hands full.

But really, we’re not going to be too disappointed if the Lakers lose. As it should be all along, it should be about developing the young guys (and about keeping that Top 3 lottery pick). We hope Julius Randle bounces back from the Utah game. We hope D’Angelo Russell continues to grow. We hope Tarik Black gets some more PT to see if he really is a quality back-up big man. We hope Jordan Clarkson can continue to be an excellent combo guard. Larry Nance is not going to play due to hurting his knee but, when he comes back, we hope that he can continue to expand his game aside from being a defensive stopper.

Just compete and try not to be embarrassed like the last two contests. And if the Lakers win, then it’s all gravy.

Where you can watch the Lakers play against your hero, Dwight Howard: 6:30 PM on Time Warner Cable Sports. Also listen at ESPN Radio Los Angeles 710AM.

For the 2nd time in 6 days the Lakers face the Jazz, this time in Utah. The last matchup was a low scoring affair plagued by some horrid Lakers’ shooting (29-89 from the field) and played at the Jazz’s pace. Further, that game saw both Kobe and D’Angelo Russell sit out, so the Lakers were also shorthanded with Anthony Brown and Marcelo Huertas filling in as best they could, but without a lot of results to show for it (save for some solid defense from Brown).

Tonight, the Lakers will be more healthy than they were last week, but will now be without Brandon Bass who is still nursing a sore foot. Tarik Black will hopefully step in for Bass as the backup C and will look to build on his solid performance against the Warriors on Thursday. Considering I’d like to see more of Black, I’m interested in seeing how he performs, though I’d prefer it weren’t because of Bass being injured.

Continue Reading…

Heading into the season, there was a hope that Roy Hibbert would be a viable — even if only short term — solution to the Lakers’ problems at the Center position. After losing Ed Davis to FA and allowing the Jordan Hill era to expire, the Lakers’ hole in the pivot needed filling. After an unsuccessful run at LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe, the Lakers pulled what looked to be a rabbit out of their hat with the trade for former all-star and defensive anchor from the Pacers.

I won’t rehash every detail of what I wrote when the Lakers acquired Hibbert, but suffice to say I liked the move. His history told the story of a big man with real and measurable defensive impact who also had positive qualities the team could use offensively (as well as familiarity with the Princeton Offense). He wasn’t the perfect player, but that’s why he was available for a future protected 2nd round pick.

Now, let’s go on a bit of a tangent. Below are statistical profiles of the four Lakers who have spent time manning the middle – note all counting statics are per/36 minutes:

  • Player A:  8.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 8.1 PER
  • Player B: 12.5 points, 14.1 rebounds, .9 blocks, 12.5 PER
  • Player C: 12.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 18.3 PER
  • Player D: 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 11.8 PER

None of these players are world beaters, though the PER of player C implies efficient play. All three are low usage guys so that is not a consideration here. Note I did not include any on/off stats since the minutes distribution is highly skewed towards two of the four players, making the sample too small to really come to conclusions about how much impact — positive or negative — those other guys might have if the sample grew.

With that out of the way, can you guess who’s who? Here they are:

Continue Reading…

The Lakers play the Warriors tonight in Oakland. This is, normally, bad news. And while it still is — we will get to that in a moment — let’s start with the good news first so we can all have a nice feeling wash over us before feeling the crushing weight of reality bathe over us like getting the first 2 numbers of the Powerball last night only to see the rest of the numbers be wrong…

Continue Reading…