You can’t always go for the juggernaut right away. To make the critical strike in a game of chess, you have to be thinking ahead and make some set up moves before unleashing that power punch. When high jumping, the approach is essential, but it’s that penultimate step, the last step before the one you jump from, that’s more important than any of the others. A similar approach is needed when teambuilding in the NBA.
When the Lakers are recruiting big name players, like LeBron James, they now have some of these set up moves ready to leverage. Not only is there the allure of a storied franchise and the big market of Los Angeles ever a component of their pitch. Now the Lakers will be able to point to some young studs in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, both of which have legitimate shots of being great players. Lonzo in particular looks to be a transcendent playmaker who very well may be THE most fun player to play alongside when it’s all said and done after the 2017-18 season.Continue Reading…
Halfway (well, 65.8%, but who’s counting) through its annual marathon, the NBA bestows upon its rank-and-file (players, coaches, hell, fans) a much-needed four-day respite from the mental and physical grind of 82 in ~175. In 2013, nowhere is this midseason oasis more welcome than in Lakerland, where, in depressingly short order, euphoria and stratospheric expectations have devolved into the most disappointing campaign in franchise history, a nightly nut-punch mad lib on the floor outdone only by incessant upheaval behind closed doors.
On a far brighter note, the NBA convenes this weekend in Houston, to celebrate its present and future, flaunt its athletic wares and, presumably, provide tuition assistance to certain ilk of “law student.” Last night, behind 40, on an unreal-even-against-All-Star-D 18-for-22 from the field, and 10 rebounds by the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried and 20 apiece from Cavs and Spurs sophs Tristan Thompson and Kawhi Leonard (who also had 10 and 7 rebounds, respectively), Team Chuck laid the wood to Team Shaq in a still-entertaining Rising Stars Challenge. This evening, the All Star festivities shift into top gear, with the always-meh Shooting Stars, underrated (seriously, I love it) Skills Challenge and All Star Saturday mainstays, the 3-point and slam dunk contests.
Though likely for the best, given the manner in which the pas three months have unfolded, conspicuously absent from tonight’s proceedings will be the Los Angeles Lakers. Not here! Infusing your day with memories of brighter days, a look back at the Lakers on All Star Saturdays past:
1984 Slam Dunk Contest
Three decades ago, the NBA lifted a(nother) page from the ABA playbook with a revival of the slam dunk contest. Fittingly, the event (re)debuted in the Rockies, where eight years earlier, at halftime of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, a Spurs’ greats George Gervin and Larry Kenon, Kentucky Colonel Artis Gilmore, Denver’s own David Thompson and then-New York Net Julius Erving. The Doctor returned to headline the nine-man field, which included the preeminent perimeter defender of his (and maybe all) time and author of many a Coop-a-Loop, Michael Cooper. Suffice it to say, the Lakers’ inaugural All-Star Saturday performance was less than auspicious:
Though still immortalized:
1987 3-Point Contest
Three years after the slam dunk dud of ’84, Coop was back at All-Star Saturday, this time to take part in the second annual Larry Bird Invitational, err, 3-Point Contest. Accompanying Cooper to Seattle for the festivities was fellow sharpshooter Byron Scott. In a star-studded eight-man field featuring a who’s who of the game’s great shooters – and Danny Ainge (some grudges die hard) – Scott stumbled, while Cooper more than held his own, outscoring Bird, Dale Ellis and future three-time contest champ Craig Hodges in Round 1, before exiting in the Semifinals, the third place finisher.
1988 3-Point Contest
This time flying solo, Byron Scott returned to the 3-Point Contest the following year in Chicago. Scott rather emphatically avenged the previous year’s last place finish with a first round performance that paced a similarly power-packed field. Not surprisingly, as the stakes ratcheted up, so did Larry Bird’s performance. Though light years behind Bird, Scott and Dale Ellis engaged in battle for the second spot in the final round, with Ellis advancing by the narrowest of margins.
Is it wrong that this burns me up as much as any Lakers-Celtics battle of which we were deprived?
1994 Rookie Game
In a stirring homage to Michael Cooper’s showing the inaugural NBA slam dunk contest a year earlier, in the first-ever (at the time) Rookie Game, Nick Van Exel, in 20 minutes of burn, handed out six assists but turned in a rather impressive goose egg, whiffing on all eight of his shots (have you seen the defense in these things?!?), including three 3-point attempts. Oof. Let’s move on.
1995 Rookie Game
The Lakers’ first-ever lottery pick, the unheralded Eddie Jones (selected #10 overall in the 1994 draft) had quickly established himself as not only one of the league’s best young players, he’d almost immediately etched his name in the NBA’s top tier of perimeter defenders. This NBA ready defense, along with his stellar athleticism in slashing to the bucket earned him an invite to the second annual Rookie Game, where, sharing the floor with the top two picks in the draft, Glenn Robinson and Jason Kidd (Grant Hill had been voted into the big-boy game), Eddie stole the show, racking up 25 (including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers), six swipes, and handing out four assists en route to the game’s MVP award.
(I’d planned to include a highlight video of this game, but sadly was only able to find the full telecast, chopped into 20-minute clips. You can find those here.)
1995 Slam Dunk Contest
In the first round of the 1995 Slam Dunk Contest, Antonio Harvey almost set the desert ablaze, but instead became the Andy Reid of All-Star Saturday.
Later that night, Bean returned to floor as the second Laker ever to take part in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest. With the contest on the ropes (it would actually be shelved the following year), the league had implemented the latest of what ultimately became a comedic laundry list of gimmicks, allowing each competitor 90 seconds in Round 1 to do with as he pleased, with the best of two dunks making up his final round score. Sadly, this resulted in our being limited to a scant three dunks by Kobe in his lone appearance in the contest. As one would expect, however, Kobe made good, delivering as emphatic and technically perfect a one-hand reverse as you’ll ever see for an opening salvo. By the way, the whole “keep the warmups on” bit looks a lot cooler when it’s Kobe instead of Brent Barry.
After edging out now-assistant coach Darvin Ham (perhaps owing to a bit of judging generosity, but whatever), Kobe set the house ablaze with a thunderous between-the-legs number – remember, this is before Vince Carter and Jason Richardson made a mockery of the skill – which earned him 49 points and dunking supremacy
(Bonus points for aggressively flexing with the sub-Durant physique and openly cheering Michael Finley’s last miss)
2004 Skills Challenge
Ok, who had Open Court Legend placing second in a competition that rewards speed, quickness, agility and outside shooting?
Seriously, I remember guffawing upon discovering Fisher’s inclusion in this field (in large part, probably, because the Lakers were that year’s host, but still), and simply hoped he could out-duel Earl Boykins and avoid last place. Taking out Boykins, Stephon Marbury (when this was still an impressive thing) and making prime-Baron Davis work in final?
Really not a lot to say here. 12 points for Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum with 7 points and 4 boards in 18 minutes.
2007 Skills Challenge
Anyone else kinda totally forget that this happened?
With the notable exceptions of the Malice at the Palace and the 1984 Draft Lottery, I’m not sure there’s an event the NBA’s worked harder to bury in history than 2007’s All-Star Weekend in Vegas. Without going into detail, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly public relations coup for the league.
That said, it was there that one of the most stealthily cool competitions in ASW history took place. It’s over in a flash (pun possibly intended), and it’d have been awesome if Kobe hadn’t flubbed the opportunity to make a run at Wade’s final time, but simply having Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul – and no one else – in a test of basketball fundamentals is pretty awesome.
2008 Rising Stars
A year after posting a solid, if unspectacular 12 points as a rookie, Jordan Farmar returned to All Star Weekend as an NBA soph, and quietly turned in a stellar playmaking performance. In a game whose narrative was dominated by Kevin Durant (23 and 8), Rudy Gay (22 on just 12 shots), Brandon Roy (17 and 7 assists), LaMarcus Aldridge (18 and 9 rebounds) and MVP Boobie Gibson (33 on 11 threes), Farmar played a central role, feeding (among others) Gibson to the tune of 12 assists, scored 17 points on 10 shots, ripped four steals, and made the play of the game (#8 below).
It might even have been recognized as such had that lob found, say, Kevin Durant instead of Ronnie Brewer.
2010 Slam Dunk Contest
They Let Shannon Dunk. It… was.
Enjoy the festivities everyone – no Laker losses tonight!
[picappgallerysingle id=”3130834″] Records:Lakers 14-3 (1st in West) Heat 10-8 (5th in East) Offensive ratings:Lakers 107.5 (14th in league) Heat 105.8 (20th in league) Defensive ratings:Lakers 99.2 (2nd in league) Heat 106.2 (15th in league) Projected Starting Lineups:Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum Heat: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Quentin Richardson, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O’Neal
The Lakers Coming in: I think we need to make a distinction when we talk about the Lakers (this came up in the comments): We need to distinguish between the “bench play” — when Odom, Farmar and Brown play parts of the second quarter — and what commenter chibi has trademarked as the “Taco Unit,” the group that includes everyone and blows leads in the fourth quarter.
Against the Hornets Tuesday, the Lakers started to pull away with the bench guys in during the second, a group that is mixed with some starters. The Taco Unit blew a lot of that lead — and almost the tacos — in the fourth quarter. We just need to look at these situations separately.
Aside that, this stat from the Elias Sports Bureau sums it up: Only one other team in NBA history has scored at least 100 points and held their opponents under 100 points for seven straight games. Now, to burst your bubble a little, that team was the 200-01 Milwaukee Bucks.
This has been an inconsistent Heat team — they beat Orlando and Denver earlier in the season (not last night, they got thumped), but then almost gave New Jersey a win. Maybe that’s to be expected with young players like Chalmers and Beasley in key roles, but still they have Wade and Jermaine O’Neal (who, stunningly, has both looked good at times and already missed time due to injury).
That means as much as ever, the Heat are asking Wade to step up and take on more. Especially in the fourth quarter — like Kobe last year the Heat look to get everyone involved early but late it is all Wade all the time. But Wake is not as efficient a shooter this season as he has been in years past — he is shooting 45% (eFG%) and while he is still getting to the line (10 FTA a game) his True Shooting Percentage is 52%, two points below the league average.
Part of the reason for the Heat’s inconsistency is they shoot a lot of long-two jumpers. They take six fewer shots per game at the rim than the average NBA team but make up for that by shooting more jumpers, three more per game from 16 feet to the three point line, than the average team. Of course, the long two is the least efficient shot in basketball.
One of the Heat’s biggest weaknesses is their bench — they get fewer points per game from the bench than any team in the NBA (according to ESPN Statistics). That was evident again last night, when after a tight first quarter the deep Nuggets just pulled away in the second quarter and never looked back.
What the Heat try to do on defense should remind people of the Showtime Lakers teams — defend the paint and get back in transition. Basically, take away the easy baskets and tempt the other team to be jump shooters. However, they don’t defend in the paint all that well, especially if you have bigs who can pass and motion in the offense. (Which the Lakers have.)
Blogs and links: The True Hoop Network has Hot Hot Hoops covering the Heat.
Keys to game: What the Heat do on offense is not a surprise, but that doesn’t make it that easy to stop: It’s a lot of pick-and-rolls and isolations for Wade. On the picks the Lakers bigs need to show out consistently and not let Wade turn the corner with a head of steam. Rotations from the bigs to keep the paint full of long arms also will be key. When Wade sits (and also when he is in, just not as often) it’s a lot of isolations for Beasley, particularly out on the wing. Good game for the strong side zone when that happens.
While those two drive, the rest of the Heat spread the floor as spot up shooters. The Lakers need to be careful about who they leave open.
Richardson, a solid defender, will get the Kobe assignment. Richardson did well on the slumping Brandon Roy the other night. The Heat love to trap the other team’s primary ball handler (especially off picks) so Kobe needs to be aware and make the smart pass.
Finally, as always, the Heat may be athletic but they do not match up with the Lakers inside. Pound the ball in on offense and the Lakers should get some easy buckets.
Where you can watch: 7:30 start at Staples Center, you can choose between Fox Sports or ESPN, and on 710 ESPN radio.