Tonight the Lakers will match up against the Oklahoma City Thunder led by the young stud Kevin Durant – young studs I guess I should say. Although extremely young, this OKC team has one of the most talented cores in Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green. Thabo Sefolosha plays his role well and guys like Eric Maynor, James Harden, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka give them quality minutes off of the bench.
Tonight, the Lakers will have to ratchet up the defense again because they’ll be trying to stop Durant, who has been in a quasi-battle with LeBron James for the league’s scoring title. He’s definitely able to get buckets when and where he wants as witnessed during his ridiculous 29-game streak of scoring at least 25 points. The problems don’t stop there, though. Russell Westbrook, when he’s having an on night, can fill up the score card. Already twice this month, he’s had games where he’s had at least 30 points and 10 assists. He is definitely a much better distributor than he ever was at UCLA, but he’s also been prone to turn the ball over.
Ron Artest and the Fisher-Farmar-Brown trio will be key in stopping those two. In both games that Westbrook has recorded 30 and 10, Durant had at least 35 points and at least two of their other teammates scored in double figures. I like this match up for the Lakers because we get to look at how they’ll fare against two completely different kinds of teams in back-to-back games as the season comes to an end. I like to get a feel for what style of play the Lakers are more comfortable with going into the playoffs, not that it makes any difference, but it’s definitely something interesting to pay attention to as the real NBA season begins.
Game of the Week from the Los Angeles Times: The Lakers have taken plenty of heat for their difficulty winning in Portland, but here’s a streak their followers can enjoy. The Lakers have won 12 consecutive games against the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. Plenty has been written about the Lakers’ nine-game losing streak in Portland, which finally came to an end last month. But almost nothing has been written about their Thunder run, probably because it’s split across two teams in two cities, the Lakers winning their last six games against Seattle and their first six after the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City. Personally, I hope the streak continues. Seattle was one of my favorite cities on this continent, let alone the NBA, so I wasn’t thrilled when owner Clay Bennett yanked the team out of Seattle. There’s no cheering in the press box, but there’s certainly private delight in a particular team losing here and there.
From the Orange County Register quoting a Rolling Stones Article: “(Durant’s ability) to challenge demented three-faced narcissist Kobe Bryant and the Laker hegemony has been the highlight of the year … The now-inexorable climb down the dominance ladder for a megalomaniac like Kobe is a tale every sports fan outside L.A. can’t help but appreciate … “Kobe has always been smart and predatory and pathologically driven, and he’s going to maximize every last drop of ability in an attempt to stay on the throne, so the Lakers will hold off the Thunder for a few more years. But the moment is coming when Kobe is going to throw everything he has at Durant, and this wide-eyed, lanky, respectful kid – nothing personal, Mr. Bryant – is going to kick his @$& anyway. That’ll be a delicious moment, and it might even happen this year.” (Sorry, Rolling Stone Magazine doesn’t provide a link to this story). Don’t count on Durant coming anywhere close to Bryant. Even at 31 years old and with the mileage that comes with 12-plus NBA seasons, Bryant still has more talent and more drive to kick more than one up-and-comers rear end. And do you really think with the Lakers in position to defend their NBA title, Bryant worries about Durant?
Also from the Orange County Register, Phil Jackson explains that the Lakers put more emphasis on 3-point shooting in “the latter part of the season,” and, apparently, Ron Artest has been stealing since he was a kid, not just from Manu Ginobili, but from Little Debbie, too.
Apparently, the Kobe-Lebron Finals chatter is starting back up again, this time with Fox Sports: You know I hesitate to even ask this, since this NBA season has seemed almost destined to end in the Finals with Kobe vs. LeBron. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if the closest we get are those puppets? No offense to the season-ticket holders of the Milwaukee Bucks, for example, but many of us casual NBA observers need a LeBron-Kobe Finals. Forgive us. But we need a reason to be excited about pro basketball, after a season in which one of the dominant storylines has been Clearing Cap Space. Look, give us something, after so many of the moves this season were made not for the postseason, but for the coming offseason. After it seemed like most every team was out of it almost as soon as the season started. If all year it was going to be Lakers-Cavs at the end, the only bright spot is at the end we’d get to see Lakers-Cavs. Yes, if this year promised anything, it was the hope of seeing a new rivalry, of watching two greats at their heights, old style, Magic-Bird. And this is their moment. If they want to take their rivalry beyond foam and 30-second spots, this is their shot. Maybe their last shot. If not now, when?
From the Los Angeles Times on Kobe passing Alex English – and the seven other NBA greats that he’s passed this season: There’s rarely been a month that has gone by this season in which Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hasn’t moved up on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. With exception to the month of December and in the Lakers’ first two regular season games in October, Bryant has broken a scoring record at least once in all the other months. That’s a total of six times, including twice in November, once in January, twice in February and in the Lakers’ most recent game, a 92-83 win Wednesday over the San Antonio Spurs. That game featured Bryant eclipsing Alex English (25,613) for 12th place on the NBA’s all-time leaders scoring list with 25,636 career points.It’s pretty well-established that Bryant scores a lot of points. But it’s surreal to see the pace at which he’s doing it. Last season, Bryant moved up from 23rd on the scoring list to 17th, moving past Larry Bird (21,791), Gary Payton (21,813), Clyde Drexler (22,195), Elgin Baylor (23,149), Adrian Dantley (23,177), Robert Parrish (23,334) and Charles Barkley (23,757) along the way.
ESPN.com has a post saying that Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton could be back on the floor as early as next week. Basket Blog has a clip of Jordan Farmar winning a half court shooting competition, and finally, a collection of quotes from Phil Jackson after yesterday’s practice (sorry, no video):
After Thursday’s practice in Oklahoma City, Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson answered some questions to assembled L.A. media about his squad as well as Friday night’s opponent, the Thunder. Among his comments: On Sasha Vujacic: Jackson: Sasha has had a year where his shot’s been inconsistent and his playing time has been inconsistent. So we’ve asked him to just play the role that he knows how to do. He’s an efficient guard, he knows how to run the offense, he knows the actions we’re (running). Don’t worry about the shot, it will come when it comes. He was playing really well in short minutes, because Shannon (Brown) has played well and started when Kobe (Bryant) was out and Jordan (Farmar) has had a dedicated role on this team and Sasha hasn’t. But that’s doesn’t mean he can’t help us, and that’s what we’ve been saying.
(UPDATE: I just saw this post by Zach Harper on Hardwood Paroxysm on how Kobe’s supreme confidence is what he appreciates about him, and how he’d like to see it more from the other NBA superstars — most notably LeBron James.)
On James Harden and the upcoming game tonight:
I went to ASU for his few years there, and was never really sold. He got, in my opinion, way more hype than he deserved over the course of the season. He did NOT come to play 40min every game. He had his moments, and that’s what the media hung on. He was good, but not, when he was on that team, what I would call a household NCAA star name. That being said…
OKC is an awesome fit for him. What I always said when he was here was that he is perfect #2 or #3. While he may be a little lower than that right now, that is where he will thrive. I don’t think he’ll ever be a #1 on any NBA team, but he will grow to be a great serviceable second-option in the near future. Smooth James, KD, and Westbrook is a team I would love to have. They are golden for the future, and they may be my #2 favorite team to watch (battling closely with the Dubs).
Just my two cents.
I just watched that Lebron clip about the scoring titles, and my first thought was, “That’s a baaaadd man!”. It was eerie how Kobe-like that was. Haha, we need some more of that from him.
Lebron is a monster. I don’t care about debating “who’s better” because none of that really matters in a team game. Save that for golf or tennis. The fact that in my lifetime I’ve seen the careers of Magic, Bird, Jordan, Duncan, Shaq, and Kobe with guys like Lebron and Wade and Durant (who I do think is special) come up through the ranks…it’s just a great thing as a fan. I think we all want to see the very best play and while I missed the careers of other all timers from past eras, I’m glad that I’m getting to see this generation’s crop of greats make their mark(s) on the league.
The author of rolling stone article is just trying to get hype and has no knowledge of the game what so ever.
We all know what goes up must come down, and it is inevitable due to age difference that Kobe will succumb to Durant eventually. The statements he makes are equivalent to me saying I can beat Barkley 1v1 right now so I am better.
I wonder why he doesn’t compare Durant to a low to mid 20s Kobe?
Is that the face Kobe made when told he’s #3 to Durant and LBJ?
Durant will be the latest in a long line of players to ascend to Kobe’s throne (i.e. McGrady, Vince, Arenas), only to be knocked away like a peasant. It takes a lot more than a single season scoring streak to supplant Kobe.
“Breaking news: Lakers’ Jackson plans to return next season”.
Basketball is a team game but a team is comprised of individual players. The better the player the better the team. The Lakers had one “great” player in Kobe and one “good” NBA player in Odom. They missed the playoffs one year while sneaking into the playoffs as an 8th and 7th seed the following years. They added “very good” players in Bynum (growth), Gasol (trade), and another “good” player in Artest (FA). Then all of the sudden they are winning championships.
Is your point that you can think Lebron is the best player in the game today while still acknowledging Kobe’s greatness or vice versa? Because that I agree with whole heartedly. Just because one player is slightly better than another doesn’t take away from the other players greatness. However I do think you can compare players. And I do think it matters what player is a hair better. If Lebron wasn’t a tad better than Kobe the Cavs wouldn’t have a Derek Fisher lay up in Hell chance of winning a championship with their roster. How “great” your “great” player is very important. The Spurs have a great cast around Duncan but because he isn’t as special as he used to be they are the 8th seed as we type. How great the greatest is very important.
Make that “a Ron Artest lay up in Hell chance..”. Well, either way really, just saying.
8 – I’ve always felt the difference between Lebron and Kobe comes down to “giving your team a chance to win it” and “actually winning it”. Kobe doesn’t need to single-handedly lift the team to victory in the playoffs, because he’s smart enough to play a series like a game of chess and come out on top. Lebron, as evidenced by last season’s Orlando series or the San Antonio finals, doesn’t have Kobe’s level of chess playing. In the playoffs – when preparation & patterns emerge and adjustments are at a premium – that’s what matters. And that, in my mind, makes Kobe the better player.
@ 10 Kobe could have played whatever “chess games” he wanted, and he wouldn’t have won a single game against San Antonio with Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes either. Sometimes a team is just better than your team, even if you have the best player in the game.
“The better the player the better the team.”
Wrong. The best combination of better players who fit in better the better the team. There is a HUGE difference in the two.
@7 – Wow. NBA.come broke something like this before ESPN! LOL…
Chownoir (was J) says
We must be close in age. My friends and I discuss how we have been privileged to watch the careers of so many all time greats. We grew up with Magic, Bird, etc. KAJ and Dr. J was still a force in the early 80’s. All the great players in the 80’s. In hockey, we got to watch Gretzky, Super Mario, Marcel Dionne, Messier. In football, Montana, Marino, Elway, Dickerson, etc. In baseball, I caught Reggie Jackson when he was only somewhat past his prime.
In all the sports, starting from my early years, I’ve been lucky enough to watch all time greats ply their trade. Looking back in other eras, I don’t know if this stretch of 80-10 is exceeded by any other in the multitude of all time greats in all sports. Even then, it’s got to be close. Very lucky, I keep reminding myself, just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Thanks for maintaining the excellence of this blog after Kurt’s departure. IMO, this is an all time great Laker blog among the numerous other blogs. No disrespect to the others, this is just the best IMO.
Aaron, my point is to appreciate a player’s greatness and that’s it. Comparing “player x” to “player y” can be a fun debate, but in the end I don’t really care. Winning isn’t done by individuals it’s done by teams.
Again, I defer exhelodrvr (#12). A player’s individual greatness is something that everyone can and should appreciate. But when it comes to winning, it’s a team game. One player can have a greater impact in basketball than in other team sports because only 10 players share the court at one time. But when everyone does share the court, they must play as a team – with some level of chemistry – to win. Whether that’s the structure surrounding Lebron or Kobe today, of if it’s the structure that surrounded AI when Philly went to the Finals. You need to have the talent in the other guys, but they better know how to play together or you’ve got Zeke’s Knicks.
I will again refer to myself on this one. If its such a team game than why is it always the best players winning all the rings? The special players draw so much attention they get open shots for their teammates. Basketball is the one team sport where you would rather have one special player than 5 good players. Ask the Cavs, Zeke’s Knicks didn’t have any talent. They overpaid for aging stars.
I was saying the better your best player is the better your team will be. But give me any 5 all stars (not named Chris Kaman) and I will beat your “team” any night of the week.
And very funny… though Artest has been making his lay ups since he has lost that weight or I would have put him in there. But because Fisher has the worst paint FG% in the NBA I have to give him that honor.
@11 Steve – HA! I see your Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes and raise you Kwame Brown and Smush Parker. No one in their right mind could say that, that Cav duo was worse than that Laker duo.
Oh, and by the way, the year the Cavs were swept by San Antonio in the Finals, the Lakers were 3-1 against the Spurs with the one loss coming in an overtime game by 2.
Kobe carried a heavier load with better results, so exactly who is greater?
Game preview for the Thunder is up.
#14. I agree on all the talent that we’ve been lucky enough to witness across all sports since the late 70’s early 80’s. Whether it’s basketball, football, baseball, hockey, or even golf (Tiger) it’s been a great era to be a sports fan. We’ve seen some all timers.
LeBron is better than Kobe. Some Laker fans have a hard time admitting it, but that is OK, because so many Kobe-haters still have a hard time admitting that Kobe is not a team-killing Satan. I have made the same points Aaron made (not here, but in other places) to both Kobe fans and Kobe haters. To many people who are overly emotional about him (cough/Simmons/cough) Kobe looked “different” once he had an All-Star 4/5 and near All-Star 5 playing with him.
But, like Darius, I don’t care about who’s better. I was around (I was a kid, but around) during Showtime, and I never cared about Magic vs. Bird debates, either. I care about which team comes out on top and about the quality of play.
#16. Congratulations on posting the most obvious thought of the day and continuing your lust to field an all-star at every position. However, you still need players to play well together. I wouldn’t want a team of 5 guys, no matter their talent level, that just wanted to score or dominate the ball. I don’t want 5 Monta Ellis’. Or even 5 Kobe Bryant’s. Sure, I’d like 5 guys *like* Kobe – guys that will do whatever it takes to win, play through injuries, exhibit that desire and mental toughness. But I don’t want 5 guys that all see themselves as the top of the totem pole. Just as Kobe has said all season, there is a pecking order and everyone must play a role for unit to be successful.
Teams win games. Period. And it’s not just the players, it’s the coaches too. It’s why Phil Jackson can take (essentially) the same Lakers team that was getting swept out of the playoffs to a title. It’s how after the Rudy T team went to the lottery that he can decrease the overall talent level (moving Butler and Atkins for Kwame, and then playing Smush) and the take that team to the playoffs.
Look at the Celts of the 70’s or the Knicks as an example of what great team play can you do over great individual play. How many Champs did Dr j have or Kobe for that mater after Shaq left before Gasol was signed.
Or, the most recent show of the sum is greater than its parts: 2004 pistons over the stacked 2004 Lakers. One or two superstars is all you need, but unless they want to play with others, it’s not going to work.
That is a common perception, but it is not accurate. Karl Malone missed almost the whole series; Billups crushed GP, and the Pistons were the best team in the league after they added Rasheed Wallace. The Lakers got by Minnesota in part because Sam Cassell was hurt and in part because Kareem Rush had a career game (6/6 on 3s) in the clincher. The Pistons were better and the results reflected that. The Lakers were lucky to win one game.
Both Darius and Aaron are right, actually: you need the pieces to fit together, you need coaching, and you need talent. Fisher is the best fit at the 1 on this team, but Farmar is far more talented. Hence the divide.
I’d say two is the perfect number. There are enough shots for both superstars, and if you can get slightly above average defenders to fill out the rest of the spots who can knock down open looks, awesome
Better than hoping the 3+ will all share the ball in a manner they will all be satisfied/are in the same page or that they have different ways of being stars. I don’t think it would work with more than one volume scorer but if there is an example feel free to enlighten me
and speaking of enlightening, 20, go ahead and enlighten me how Lebron is better than this season’s Kobe before his numerous injuries
ahead and enlighten me how Lebron is better than this season’s Kobe before his numerous injuries
Pick pretty much any measure you want. The Kobe-is-better argument is generally based on very subjective stuff like #10, or hedges like “before his numerous injuries”, or aesthetics.
Stats don’t tell the whole story in basketball, of course, but they tell you a lot. Saying LeBron is better is not a knock on Kobe Bryant.
if that’s your way of enlightening me
“thanks”, I guess =)
you calling it a “hedge” will only be known if it is accurate or not next year, when we find if it will heal or it will have Garnett-like sequela.
Kobe has better footwork, a wider array of skills, doesn’t defer to a colder(as in missing buckets, not cold blooded) shooting player when the game is in the line, better at FT% WITH a broken finger(though barely)
Also, if kobe played for cavaliers, he would have more rebounds and assists for sure(probably not as many as lebron, but still would have more)
lebron doesn’t have 3 magnificent rebounders to eat up that many rebounds, cavaliers don’t play the triangle and cavs players are often spot-up shooters. Think about it, how many times have you seen Pau receive a pass where a lot of post players would pick the ball and just hookshot it in, but Pau stops to turn around, jab step, fake and all the good stuff that makes him Pau
Bottomline: Stats can be inflated/deflated by how your team plays. Monta Ellis, for example
Kobe has better footwork, a wider array of skills, doesn’t defer to a colder(as in missing buckets, not cold blooded) shooting player when the game is in the line, better at FT% WITH a broken finger(though barely)
And James shoots a far higher percentage, averages 3 more assists, per game, 2 more rebounds, and has a higher % on 3s (which of course may be the finger issue).
Look, I am a Laker fan. But all you really did was prove my point: you like Kobe’s game better, and you don’t care what the numbers say. That’s fine–but these are subjective and aesthetic arguments, which are the only ones Laker fans can make.
And of course systems affect stats. But when all the stats point one way, that needs to be taken seriously.
It’s a lot easier to do layups when both your bigs slide out of your way whenever you run your way inside the paint. It’s no coincidence that Kobe was shooting a career high with no gasol, he could play inside the paint with one big man down(and a healthy finger)
also, let’s ignore lebron.
You want to go by stats? PER, the whatever was wayne winston’s number called and many other have kobe barely into the top 5 of their list. Kobe never led the league. Kobe never led the league in PER. So I ask you, do you honestly believe Kobe was never the best player in the league? Would you really take all the players who were over Kobe instead of him?
Gentlemen this team did not come to play. This game is OVER. Play the bench and rest up for Houston tomorrow