The Lakers didn’t play their best basketball over the weekend, and during some stretches, they played absolutely terrible, but it’s Monday, and the Lakers finished the month of February with two huge wins against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Denver Nuggets.
I’m not going to discredit the importance of the Sixers game, because every game the rest of this season is going to be huge for the Lakers who are looking to get home court throughout the postseason, but last night’s game against the Nuggets held a special significance for the players and fans alike. Losing three straight to those cocky Nuggets would have given them a certain psychological advantage over the Lakers – and we know how tough those can be to get over (read: playing in the Rose Garden).
In the first half, it looked like the Lakers were ready to hand the Nuggets that advantage on a silver platter. Kobe’s shot wasn’t falling, they were turning the ball over at a high rate, they were giving up offensive rebounds, essentially, there was little to no intensity. They went into the half down nine points, in Staples, with a crowd almost as dead as the Celtics were on Saturday.
Things did turn around:
– Ron Artest clamped down on Carmelo Anthony, who shot seven for 19. From Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
He was acquired last summer by the Lakers to put the clamps on All-Star small forwards such as Denver’s Carmelo Anthony.
And Artest did, using his strength and defensive acumen to hold Anthony down to the point the Nuggets’ star fouled out during the Lakers’ 95-89 victory over Denver on Sunday at Staples Center.
Artest refused to give Anthony an inch, the two going head-to-head, the Lakers’ forward grinding down Anthony to a seven-for-19 shooting game, 21 points and eight turnovers.
– Pau Gasol responded to Denver’s physicality and ended the game with a 15 and 14 line, and the “last words.” From Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:
Gasol marched to the free-throw line to score, further fueling the Lakers’ rally toward victory Sunday against the Denver Nuggets. The proper retort in this case was not a forearm to that cocky red tattoo of lips on Martin’s neck or Gasol lowering that shaggy head and trying to bull toward the rim. The right answer was not being a brute, not using force.
Gasol is an intelligent, skillful man – and he played to his strengths. And playing to your strengths is when you’re really being strong.
“They did talk too much,” Gasol said later. “Way too much.”
Gasol said his first option is always trying not to listen, yet he has learned it is imperative he does stand up and speak for himself.
“That’s how I talk – by my play,” Gasol said. “And other players can’t do that.”
– Kobe was able to adjust his game and find his teammates when his shot wasn’t falling, the same couldn’t be said for ‘Melo. From Jeremy at Roundball Mining Company:
There is no guarantee the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers are going to face off again in the playoffs this spring, but today we got a taste of what a late May matchup between these two teams will be like. If that is indeed the case, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant may not have very much fun during that series.
The two superstars combined to make a mere 10 of their 36 shots. Ron Artest was all over Carmelo on one end while Arron Afflalo was harassing Kobe on the other. The difference in the game was Kobe adjusted his plan to fit what was going on around him while Carmelo did not. The proof is in their passing stats. Carmelo tallied only one assist, an over the head heave to J.R. Smith who was all alone after a steal, while Kobe ended the game with 12 assists. Compounding the problem even further Melo turned the ball over eight times good for a stunningly bad .13 assist to turnover ratio.
– Lamar Odom got it going in the fourth, notching nine points and eight rebounds in the quarter alone. From nowhere:
As well as Ron Artest played on ‘Melo, Gasol responded to Martin or Kobe found teammates, it’s hard to imagine the Lakers pulling that victory out if Lamar hadn’t finally realized that he was playing a huge basketball game. Even with a team high in points to go along with his 12 rebounds, you won’t find much love from the writers in regards to Lamar Odom. There will be a sentence here and a side note there, but it was Odom who essentially closed out the game for the Lakers while Kobe’s shot failed him.
In a potential playoff series against the Nuggets, the Lakers are going to need Lamar Odom to have nights like he had tonight. In their first two meetings, both Lakers losses, Odom averaged 12 points and 6.5 rebounds – a far cry from the 20 and 12 he had in last night’s win. Sure, he was frustrating early, taking an ill-advised three pointer on the first possession he came into the game, but PJ kept him on the bench for a stretch in the second quarter where he played DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell instead of LO which seemed to wake him up.
Last night’s game extended the Lakers lead over the Nuggets to 5.5 in the Western Conference and also moved the Nuggets road record under .500, something that hasn’t been getting a lot of attention lately. That mediocre road record will definitely come into play during the post season.
For those of you who missed last night’s game, Lakers.com has the running diary of all of the big plays with analysis by quarter. Also, the Los Angeles Times’ Lakers Blog has post game interviews from Pau, Ron, Phil, Kobe and Lamar.
The Lakers will probably have a light practice today before they begin their tough March schedule tomorrow against the Pacers.
Lastly, there has been a rumor started by Roland Lazenby about LeBron James potentially joining the Lakers next season. Don’t pay it any attention. That has about as much a possibility as the Nets beating the Celtics me becoming a Celtics fan.
Also, for a nice 3 minute highlight of everything good from the Lakers end, check this out.
And if you’d like to see a 9 minute compilation (with some repeats of what is in the other video) of Ron Artest’s inspired defensive effort, you should check this out (fyi, the quality is not that great, but it’s still worth watching, imo.)
i think you got suckered by lazenby. that’s clearly not the point of the story – it’s just a pretty good hook to grab eyeballs. Lazenby pretty much dismisses it in a few sentences. The bigger issues are further down in the story. Or maybe I should say the issues he raises on behalf of PJ and Jeannie. It’s quite true that most reporters (save Simers, Vecsey and few others) have been pretty quiet about it. Maybe it’s a little premature for them, since there are more pressing matters, but you can bet that will be the subject during the playoffs…I guess Laker fans are only entitled to one drama-free year and that was last year. Let the games begin.
Matt R. says
That Lazenby article is all about the Phil/Jeanie vs. Jerry/Jim powerstruggle in the front office.
The critical part of the LBJ rumor (if there’s anything true about it) isn’t LBJ wanting to play for Phil, but Phil wanting to coach LBJ. That is a shot fired across the Buss bow that Phil could well leave for the Knicks if James ends up there and Jim retains full control of this team.
I think the only moment I love more this season of Ron than his emphatic fist thrusts last night, was his “midcourt timeout signal” he made for the Rockets when he forced overtime in Houston. It was great! Then after the game he said it was the closest thing he’s ever had to a touchdown victory dance (for the NBA.) He’s the best type of player to have on your team. You can never be bored with this guy. Even his downfall of having a cheap shoe sponsor makes an entertaining story. The guy is gold!
Loved that last line Phillip =)
It gives me great pleasure to know that we not only beat them, but took the game from them as emphatically as each forced turnover or each power move to the basket. They couldn’t capitalize on our mistakes, and we forced the issue. The psychological edge we have is control, which may be more potent than wins.
.. and wow what a bs article by Roland Lazenby, crushed any chance of me buying his book. Way to Bill Simmons relationships and emotions instead of resorting to any real journalism.
John Morris says
I know there is a lot of pressure on the Lakers to win all of these statement games throughout the season. By statement games I mean head to head against the other elite teams in the league that they will likely see in the playoffs or finals. One thing a lot of people don’t take into account is (keeping the playoffs in mind) how tough it is to beat Phil Jackson and the Lakers in a 7-game series. Every team in the league gets up for the Lakers. It will take a special team to be able to beat the Lakers in a series this year.
You mean Lebron is not going to opt out of his contract and sign a MLE size contract with the Lakers? Thats seems plausible to me.
I suppose Phil could decide to leave LA and replace Brown as the coach of the Cavs.
The links keep coming…
If you haven’t already, go check out the triple team that Kevin of TrueHoop/ClipperBlog and the K Bros have going with a post on Kobe’s day. The video that Kevin put together is a great visual representation of how Kobe on the weakside pinch post terrorized Denver’s defense.
Darius 8, That video was chicken soup for the poor shooting Kobe’s soul. Plus I feel like I understand the adjustments the lakers make a little better now. Thanks.
I suppose this is the other side of the “let Kobe have his and stop everyone else” coin.
I know Michael Finley has been having quite a bad year and all, but it’s worth noting that this guy can still shoot. Oh, and he and Fisher could form their 35+ players club.
It’s worth a look…he would be at best the 3rd string shooting guard and small forward.
Flip, my comments weren’t exactly about Lazenby’s article, but about all of the stories that were generated from it. I just wanted to give you guys the source.
This article on Odom’s play went up this morning as I was editing the post. Suffice to say, I didn’t catch it.
8. that video was awesome i can’t believe denver kept doubling kobe so aggressively when it was clear his jump shot was off.
kenyon martin looks silly leaving odom for kobe allowing LO to make the cut for the easy bucket.
DY 11, I was thinking the same thing. I think with Sasha and Luke missing some time for the next few months, Finley would be a nice pickup, and would ease Kobe for at least a few minutes a game.
Chris J says
Lost amid the love-fest JVG and Mark Jacoson were showering on Chauncey yesterday was the fact that — just like in the playoffs last season — he basically shot his team out of a chance to win the game. There were at least two instances late in the fourth in which he pulled up for a quick “dagger” attempt and missed them badly, allowing the Lakers to get the ball back with little time in the shot clock used by the Nuggets.
The Lakers best chance to beat Denver in the playoffs will come between the ears. Chauncey’s drinking his own Kool-Aid thinking he should shoot whatever, whenever, and he’s not the only one with that flaw (JR Smith). And Karl’s inability to make in-game adjustments vs. Phil will be key, too.
On the court, their backcourt depth is a problem, especially with Kobe at less than 100 percent. But the playoffs are a chess game, and I wouldn’t opt for a single Nugget when it comes down to using his head, Melo included. They think their heads are there strictly as a showcase for neck tattoos.
thanks for the clarification phillip. and my apologies if i sounded less than polite. that was not at all the intention. i enjoy the blog very much and the work you do.
14. Finley can receive the honorary “Mitch Richmond” reward (seat on a championship run). From what I heard about him, he has the right temperment and mindset and is still a deadeye shooter. Plus, it would be sweet revenge to beat the Spurs in the first round, not that he is the vengeful sort of guy.
celtics losing at home to the nets just brings a smile to my face.
You are right.
You expressed my feelings pretty much.
I think Artest’s weight loss plan is making him a much more spirited defender. Hopefully 250 pounds will help his speed against Lebron, if he makes it to the finals. but against Kevin durant, Melo, Paul Pierce, vince carter.
keep losing that weight ron ron.
Any word on picking up a vet player for the postseason?
Looks like Finley could be a decent pickup for 3’s off the bench.
Also have Larry Hughes and possibly Devin Brown to look at. Any thoughts on those guys?
That Lazenby article was a fun read.
I’d love to see what PJ and LBJ could do together …
T. Rogers says
15) – You are very right about Denver’s weakness. They have the back court to beat the Lakers. And while their front court is not as good as LA’s they are very aggressive and that tends to bother our guys a little, espcially Pau. They have a bona fide scorer in Anthony and legit floor leader in Billips. And they have that “wild card” sixth man in JR Smith.
Still the Lakers are the smarter team. They have more poise and self control. And those issues will be Denver’s undoing.
While I haven’t heard or read anything specifically, I don’t think a pick up is likely. Personally, I think Finley, Brown, and Hughes are marginal talents that wouldn’t help us much. Not with the learning curve of our offense and with little practice time to get them comfortable. The word is that Hughes is going to sign with Charlotte, anyway and there has not yet been a market established for Finley.
Also, understand that at last word, Sasha should be back soon. Before the Philly game, Phil implied that Sasha could be back as soon as a week from today. I know that Luke’s return is much more uncertain, but with Ron and Kobe as SF’s I think we’re better off at that position than any new acquisition could make us. I think we stand pat and go to battle with what we have. Personally, I’m fine with that approach.
I am extremely worried about Kobe’s shooting. Aside from the Nuggets game, he shot terribly against the Sixers and Mavericks as well. Can we realistically win a championship with Kobe continuously putting up bricks?
Kobe will get his shot back you can bet on that.
@25 Rudy, Extremely is a strong word, but i respect your opinion. He (Kobe) Is coming back from not only an ankle sprain, but also ligament strains on that same ankle, therefore he is re-conditioning it game to game now. What i see as a positive is that his finger has gotten better, therefore his passing has improved, which resulted in accurate passes to the rest of the team. -Just imagine for a sec if he is passing the way he did and half of his shots went in, I have to say I’m liking our chances come playoffs. Mama’ there goes that man!! kobe-nash 🙂
Good point, Chris J.
Both Chauncey and JR Smith are streaky shooters. If they get a couple of open looks and knocks them down, they get unconscious with their shooting and often hit them in bunches. I think the key is to make sure that our guards do not leave them to “help” in the paint. Fisher and Brown are the WORST at doing this, but Farmar and Kobe are just as guilty. IF Artest can continue to check Melo one on one, none of the chicken nuggets warrants a double team. If we can force the chicken nugget guards to dribble drive rather than take the open jumpers, we’ll be more successful as Billups isn’t the finisher he used to be and Smith while can finish well can be stopped by our bigs. Of course, we can’t do that with Ty Lawson. With him, we have to give him the jumpers. So our guards need to change defensive strategy depending on whom they are guarding.
I think another defensive key would be neutralizing Nene’s aggression. I think Pau and Odom combo does a great job on him, but Drew needs to be able to handle his dribble drive post move to stay on the court to do damage on the offensive side. If Drew can do that, we’ll win easily. If not, it’ll be a tough 6-7 games series in the playoffs.
The matchup vs. the chicken nuggets have replaced the Spurs matchup, and it’s even has that contempt factor that we used to have with the Sac. queens. We used to hate the Spurs, but there was always some dignity and respect between the two teams. But with the queens and the chicken nuggets, I feel like there’s only disdain and disrespect, which makes beating them more enjoyable and rewarding. I hope we see them in WCF and rip their hearts out in 5 games. Wouldn’t that be so sweet?
I wish Karl best wishes with cancer treatment but I hope nothing goes his way on the court.
25- no, the Lakers cannot win with Kobe missing so many outside jumpers. But from all reports, Kobe is the best player in the NBA at making adjustments in practice for the game, and he has proven his ability to adapt to his (increasingly) busted fingers and body.
I agree with Wonderbap’s take at SSR. The bizarre Lebron-a-Laker stuff is Phil’s team trying to put pressure on the other side of the Buss family. I’m very curious who Lazenby’s source is – historically he’s had free access to Tex Winter, but I wouldn’t think that Tex would carry Phil’s water like this. Maybe it’s Jeanne or her assistant.
Still very pleased with the win – but I sure don’t think it’s a deflater for the Nuggs.
Coming into the Denver game I had some questions about the Lakers being able to play well enough to beat teams like Cleveland and Denver. Those questions were answered yesterday.
I don’t know what will happen in the playoffs, but I am now convinced the Lakers are quite capable of winning the championship. I know one win in March does not mean a lot, but this win did show what the Lakers are capable of, even when Kobe can’t find his shot.
I also think Ron and Fish hitting threes played more of a role than people may think. That changes the complexion of this team on several levels.
New post up. Talking some tweaks to the Lakers offense.
let’s not give Aaron a heart attack with the chance that Lebron would come to the lakers next year!!
I kid Aaron, I agree with you that LBJ is the best bball player in the league, and I too would trade Kobe for him (right now). Sorry, I like young superstars who can keep the Lakers competitive for years to come.
Ok enough of that. Go Lakers.
Roland’s article was low.
It used a headline that has very little to do with the article just to grab hits, and then it recycled stuff Roland has wrote before.
He seems to be very intrigued by the Jim/Jeanie/PJ/Kobe/Jerry dynamic, and has been trying to put that out there for a while.
Nobody outside some serious Laker fans following Lazenby are even aware of this, and not many even care, so he’s putting it out there again with a title that will make others read it.
Roland got some things right. There is a conflict within Lakerland. Phil and Jim is a big one just like Phil and Jerry West once was one. Andrew was Jim’s only pick and Phil hates his lazy play and big contract.
Scott is coach in waiting and if Lakers don’t repeat Phil will not get $12 million again from Jerry when he can get Byron for $4.
What you can expect is Phil back where he started. The Knicks! Also many promises for future involvement in future productions were made between Spike Lee and Kobe during last Novembers Spike Kobe Video.
Do the math. Phil, Kobe, Bosh at the Garden hence no Kobe re-up 70% into the season.