All Balls Don’t Bounce

Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

Posts Tagged ‘derek fisher’

Aaaand We’re Back

Posted by hiphopmama on October 27, 2009

Ringzzz
LA Clippers 92, LA Lakers 99
(1-0)

It always feels a little weird to me when the NBA season doesn’t start on Halloween, but my daughter’s third birthday is as good a day as any to inaugurate another year of basketball.  With this being “Championship Ring Night,” which is apparently the newest addition to the commentator vernacular, emotions were high at Staples Center as the Lakers kicked off their season against their in-house rivals, the Clippers.

Now before I really get into it, I have a caveat. This year’s updates are going to be much shorter. At least that’s my intention. I’m back at work, braving daycare with my baby girl, and frankly too damn tired to pump out 800+ words for every Laker game. That said, I often have a hard time shutting my mouth (or my laptop), so brevity is more of a tentative goal than an absolute promise. And now on with the show.

The Lakers turned in a mostly convincing performance against a Clippers team that was without its number one draft pick Blake Griffin, who picked up a knee injury in the last game of an impressive preseason. He is expected to be sidelined for 6-8 weeks, which is a big blow to Dunleavy and the Clips. That wasn’t the biggest of their problems tonight, though, as they were generally dismantled by a far superior Lakers team that looked loose and ready to get back to work. We were without Pau Gasol due to a nagging but minor injury, so Odom was inserted into the starting line-up along with old faithfuls Kobe and Fish, the hopefully healthy Bynum, and newcomer Ron Artest.

The team fared well in the early going, moving the ball well and defending with good energy. Phil treated it like a preseason game with his rotation, playing the likes of Mbenga and Powell significant minutes in the first quarter somewhat surprisingly. When the Clippers made the expected run, the starters were re-inserted to steady the game and stretch the lead back to a comfortable margin. The same basic pattern followed in the second half, with the team taking a little cruise in the third quarter to let the Clips back to within one before slamming the door shut on them with an early fourth quarter burst.

It’s the first game of a long season, so I don’t think too much can be read into this one, but it’s worth analyzing things a bit I suppose. Kobe turned in a routine 33 in 38 minutes and filled out the rest of the stat sheet with 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals. He looked like a fish in water, thoroughly in his element and happy to be back on the court. He linked up well with his teammates all night long. Odom looked like the good Odom that makes us all but unbeatable, going for a cool 16 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Dayyyumm. Phil showed us a little somethin’ somethin’ with a three-guard set of Kobe, Farmar, and Brown on a couple occasions. We’ll have to see how that one plays out as the season goes on.

The biggest story of the night was easily Ron Artest’s debut in the purple and gold. He wasn’t spectacular, but he played the kind of game I’d like to see more of from him in the future. He was quiet for large stretches, defended staunchly, hustled for loose balls, and picked his spots offensively. The main question fans had going into the season was how Ron-Ron would fit into the triangle offense and whether or not he would be able to defer to the great offensive beings on his team. At least for tonight, he did all that and quite well. He missed a few open threes, but that will come with time, and the extra threat on the post and toughness in defense is well worth the transition time. And Ariza’s agent looks worse and worse….

So here I am, 650 words in and still talking. I’m gonna shut up now and leave it at that until Friday night, when we host the Mavericks. 20-1 may be a little lofty (but thanks for the nod, Reggie), but something similarly remarkable does seem achievable, at least for this early season stretch, which is pretty straightforward for the second straight year. 70 games? Probably not, but the goal is much more than that anyway. Here’s to all that and more.

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All the Marbles

Posted by hiphopmama on June 15, 2009

Four

Four

LA Lakers 99, Orlando 86
Lakers win series 4-1

We did it. We won it all and avenged our humiliating loss last year to the Celtics. And I’m a day late. Dammit. By way of explanation (to my two devoted readers – yes, both of you), my father-in-law developed some bizarre sickness that we were unable to explain for some time, which meant my husband had to spend a couple days helping him out almost non-stop, which in turn meant that I was on 24-hour duty with the daughter. Hence no time for writing. But best believe we watched the game. Halfway through the fourth quarter, she mysteriously disappeared into her room and came back out with her huge Lakers #1 finger and said, “Go Lakers!” Indoctrination works.

As for the game, there’s not much to say. It was over in the first half, after we responded to their early energy burst with a couple sustained runs and put them away going into the locker room. Yeah they fought hard, yadda yadda yadda, but their spirits were essentially broken in that crushing game four loss and one more comeback by us was all it took. Straw, meet camel. In the process of closing the door for good, we got key performances from just about everyone. Gasol exploited his ever-present size and quickness advantage in going for 14 and 15. Ariza dropped in a cool 15 and once again provided the spark in the second quarter spurt that put us ahead for good. Odom also contributed some big three’s during that run in pursuit of his own double-double (17 & 10), and Fish pitched in 13 of his own points to the effort.

And then there was Kobe. It was the perfect note to end on for him. He put up the complete all-around game: 30 points (10-of-23), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocks. He got us off to a good start, worked his teammates in, then carried us just enough the rest of the way to get us to the finish line. The Finals MVP was a foregone conclusion, but he put the exclamation point on it with his game. The detractors are all officially haters at this point.

It’s hard to sum this season up in a single post this way, after all I’ve put into watching and analyzing every single game. I can only say for sure that this is the most I’ve ever gotten out of a single NBA season, and that was the best shot I’ve seen since Big Shot Rob. And if you’re a Laker fan, you already know what I’m talking about. In terms of sheer excitement, I don’t think anything can beat the second championship of the three-peat for me. It was my first year back in southern California and thus the first time I was able to watch every Laker game all season long. Plus, rubbing it into the flaming wounds of bitter Sacramento fans made it all the more rewarding. You could even argue that that Western Conference Finals launched two future legal careers, only one of the typical smug, asshole variety. But for as gripping a season and postseason as that was to watch, this year topped it in terms of heady, aware basketball and my own immersion in the Laker game. This was a team on a mission, fully aware of the stakes after getting buried by Boston last year, and they played accordingly. It was as good a fit between coach, superstar, and team as I’ve ever seen, with Kobe taking the reins as often as Phil on the court and finally growing into the natural leadership role we’ve been waiting for him to inhabit all these years. And all the role players – and let’s be honest, everyone other than Kobe is a role player – well, they filled the team out perfectly, like hand in glove. Pau was the legitimate second option we’ve needed and about as consistent as any other player in the league. His shooting percentages were always through the roof. Odom’s willingness to go along with the sixth-man scheme and continued ability to perform at a high level were a testament to his professionalism, something which has occasionally been in doubt over the years. Fisher was his typical composed self, steadying the team and playing more minutes than he should rightfully have been asked to. And Ariza developed into the energy guy and defensive specialist every championship contender needs. If we can resign Trevor and Lamar, and obviously keep Phil on board for another year or two, there’s nothing preventing us from snatching up a couple more of these things in the coming years.

So congrats to the boys, and thanks for the great year. I don’t know how I’ll survive for the next few months during this foreign period they call an “off-season.” I suppose I could watch baseball… No, definitely not. I’ll just be bored the natural way. Till October…

Recap:

Highlights:

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T-Minus One

Posted by hiphopmama on June 11, 2009

fishLA Lakers 99, Orlando 91
     Lakers lead 3-1

Out-fought. Out-coached. Out-played. I will erect a shrine to Derek Fisher, and to my sister too, for that matter, as she helped ensure a win by leaving the room for Fisher’s overtime three that put us up. Back when we were kids and I was a punk older sister, I would kick her out of the room when I got to a tough part in a video game because somehow she was “bad luck.” The sad thing was I always won when she left, so to this day we joke that she can help the team cause by taking a breather during key moments. She got home just in time to watch overtime, and I joked with her that she shouldn’t watch because we really needed this game, and she just happened to be in another room when Fish drilled it and gave us the lead we never gave up. So this win is for you, Danielle. May you always be in another room at the right moment.

What can you really say about a game like this? I’m still struggling to come to grips with it, and my team won. I can’t imagine how the Magic must be reeling after this kind of loss. Orlando had every opportunity to win this game, and they rolled out the red carpet for us to take it from them. They didn’t give it away – don’t let anyone tell you that – because we still had to hit the shots and make the stops to get the win. But it was their game to win and the let it slip away. Stan Van Gundy can dismiss the value of experience all he wants, but he was simply on the wrong side of it tonight. A Phil Jackson team wins the game in that situation nine times out of ten. Yes, we will occasionally lose games we should win, just like we should have capitalized on our chance to grab game 3, but it’s a rarity. Playing under Finals pressure is a whole different thing and I don’t think you can discount that, no matter how much Van Gundy wants to believe it’s just another game. Kenny Smith is right in pointing out how few rookies have ever led their team to a championship – it just doesn’t happen because there’s no equivalent for having been there before. Sorry, Stan, it’s just the truth.

It’s not an excuse, though, and he still should’ve had his guys fouling with 11 seconds left and a three-point lead. I’ll be honest – I texted my husband, “It’s slipping away” when Orlando had the ball with a 5-point lead and under a minute remaining. Then Kobe drops off a brilliant pass to Pau for a dunk and Howard misses two free throws to set up our out of bounds play. Phil elects to take it full court, we use Kobe as a decoy, and the ball goes to Fish, who pulls up and drains it from the wing. Jameer Nelson was there and eventually got a hand up, but he was playing way too far off, and Fisher did what he has done so often. He came through for his team and propelled us to overtime. 

Once we got to overtime, it was pretty much over. We had broken their backs in regulation, and there was no coming back from that. Orlando opened the scoring with a Rashard Lewis three-pointer, but they didn’t get another field goal. Kobe made back-to-back jumpers before Howard converted on one of two free throws to tie the game. We then came up with two huge offensive rebounds, Kobe drew the double (and dished an elbow) in the post and kicked it out to Fisher, who drilled ANOTHER three to give us the lead we never relinquished. Turkoglu fired up a quicker three than they really needed and we got a run-out dunk for Pau. Then another missed three by Turkoglu led to a Pau dunk plus foul, which turned out to be a flagrant on Pietrus for shoving him in the back and making no play on the ball. I was even happy to see him get into it with the Frenchman after the play, because he has had a tendency to not get as fired up as I would like or as the team would need. None of that tonight in a crucial win.

Who would have thought at the beginning of the year that Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza would be our players of the game in game 4 of the Finals? Our big two made big contributions tonight, but Ariza was the man that got us back into the game after a horrendous first half. After getting zip in the first two quarters, he dropped 13 in the third, when we outscored the Magic 30-14. Then he hit a huge three with two and a half minutes left in the fourth after a blown play and with the shot clock about to expire to tie the game. And then there was Fish. It’s hard to quantify all the stuff he does for us, but tonight it was relatively easy. Whether it was diving on the floor to secure a steal or knocking down the two biggest buckets of the game, he was once again the steady hand in rough waters. It doesn’t top the 0.4 seconds shot, but it’s easily number two on his list of great performances with the Lakers. Those are the kind of players you need to win a title. Thank god he’s on our side.

Kobe shot 11-for-31. Pau kicked in just 16. All three big men – Pau, Lamar, and Andrew – were in foul trouble early, forcing us to go with DJ Mbenga and play all twelve guys in the first half. Kobe and Pau played a grueling 49 minutes, and we had to come back from a butt-ass first half after which we trailed by 12 points. But talk about championship poise. The mental toughness to come out a different team in the second half and clamp down on Orlando’s shooting. Just eight turnovers for four plus overtime from a team with a history of filling it up in the category. And the ice-in-the-veins coldness to take the opportunities when they were presented to us. All things the Lakers can claim but the Magic can’t, and the difference in this series. I think we owe it to Nick Anderson, who must have invoked his spirit by presenting the game ball. How else can you explain all those missed free throws when it counted the most? Yes, Diana, I believe they call that irony. Word to Alanis.

Recap:

Phil’s postgame press conference:

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Two-Fer

Posted by hiphopmama on June 7, 2009

Magic Lakers
Orlando 96, LA Lakers 101 (OT)
     Lakers lead series 2-0

The last time I was able to type “Lakers lead series 2-0,” we were on our way to a 5-game victory over Utah. Needless to say, the competition is much stiffer at this point, but I still prefer seeing us hold home court rather than having to watch us stumble through those first two games. We now have to head to Orlando for three straight (god I hate this 2-3-2 format), but I still like our chances, whether we close it out on their floor or our own. 

This was a much better game, at least from a neutral perspective. As expected, there was no repeat of the game 1 performance for the Magic, who found their shot, at least for key stretches of the game. They weren’t the offensive juggernaut we witnessed against Cleveland, but they got big contributions from their big players to keep them in the game. It was close throughout, with the Lakers nursing a small lead most of the way, until a late third quarter surge gave Orlando the lead heading into the fourth. The fourth quarter was like a see-saw, as we reclaimed the lead, only to lose it before going back and forth between trailing and being tied. In the end, a good defensive possession enabled us to take (what we all thought would be) the last shot with the game tied. As it turned out, we didn’t even get a shot as Kobe blew by Turkoglu but was caught by Hedo from behind for the block. After review, the refs put 0.6 seconds back on the clock, which was plenty of time for Stan Van Gundy to draw up a play for a back screen lob to Courtney Lee. Turkoglu picked him out with a good, but not great, pass, and Lee had the task of bringing the ball back out from under the backboard and laying it in. Kobe got lost on a pick, but Pau rotated over at the last second to contest and it rolled off the rim. 

So we headed to overtime, where things really turned on a dime. We took a two-point lead on a pair of free throws by Gasol, but a Dwight Howard three-point play swung things the other way. Kobe hit a tough shot to take back the lead, and then we sort of ramped it up and took it away from them. Fisher stepped in to steal a bad pass by Reddick and ran the other way for a foul and two more free throws. We forced another missed shot by Turkoglu and then broke their backs with a three-point play when Pau finished on a nice dish from Kobe inside. That took the lead to six and it was a game of catch-up from there. Rashard Lewis managed to hit another monster three to make it close, but Lamar hit two clutch free throws to maintain the margin and send us to Orlando up 2-0.

And now I’m tired and lazy, so instead of coherent commentary I present you with some random thoughts. Enjoy.

  • Rashard Lewis had a hell of a game. That 18 point second quarter was incredible with all those threes, and he was clutch down the stretch too. 
  • Speaking of clutch, Turkoglu had a big bucket as well to put the Magic up two near the end of the fourth. The Magic came up short tonight, but they sure have some players who are willing to step up and take, and make, tough shots at the end of games. How many times in these playoffs have we seen that from both Turkoglu and Lewis?
  • Odom missed one shot all game. Damn we’ve needed him.
  • Howard looks confused by the defense we’re throwing at him. It helps that we have all those long bodies out there, but a lot of credit goes to the way they’ve switched up schemes and kept him guessing. Now if we could just figure out our rotations off of the double-team we’d be golden.
  • We have to make them pay for playing with no point guard. I’m not suggesting we go to the full court trap or anything – god knows we’ve never shown the ability to run that with any success – but a little extra pressure might scare them out of that tactic. You’re telling me you trust JJ Reddick and Hedo Turkoglu to bring the ball up and run your offense in the NBA Finals. Fine, now how about with a defender or two in their face? That’s what I thought.
  • We had another good defensive game, but it could still be improved. I saw a number of blown assignments. At one point, we had two guys running to Howard on the post, resulting in a triple-team and two open guys on the perimeter. A couple other times, the rotations were all wrong, with two guys rotating to the same player and then scrambling to recover. It’s not much to gripe about given how solid our defense was for the most part, but with the shooters Orlando have, we have to be extra crisp. I think we can still clean a few things up. 
  • Turkoglu played Kobe pretty darn well. SVG went with Hedo in overtime after Pietrus had fouled out in order to keep their best offensive line-up on the floor, and it worked out fairly well. Which is to say Kobe still burned them, but Turkoglu at least kept up with him and forced him to do his work under duress. That block at the end of regulation was just a good recovery after getting beat off the dribble, and he stuck with him well when he had the ball. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go back to that as their second option on Kobe after Pietrus. Mask or no mask, Courtney Lee ain’t scaring anybody.

Recap:

Highlights:

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Game 1: Check

Posted by hiphopmama on June 4, 2009

Game face

Game face

Orlando 75, LA Lakers 100
     Lakers lead series 1-0

Wow. Could that have gone any better? Literally everyone played well, from Kobe and Pau anchoring the line-up to Josh Powell nailing a three at the final buzzer. And oh yeah, we showed up defensively too, holding them to under 30% shooting and limiting Dwight Howard to one single solitary field goal. Yes, you read that right. Superman scored one bucket in 35 minutes of play. He also added 10 free throws for a grand total of 12 points. Orlando’s leading scorer for the night was sixth man Mickael Pietrus with 14 points. Turkoglu was a dismal 3-for-11 for 13 points, and Rashard Lewis was even worse at 2-for-10 and 8 points. Can you say ouch?

In a game like this, there are obviously a number of factors at work in our favor, but in my mind it once again came down to Phil and Kobe. Kobe and Phil. In whatever order you want, they are the reason for the season. In terms of game-planning, I don’t think they could have scouted this Magic team any better. They were prepared for every move they made, and at every step, there was a Laker defender waiting for them before they could get into rhythm. Even throwing Jameer Nelson into the game in the second quarter only shook them up for a few minutes before they adjusted and put the clamps down on them for good. All those supposed mismatches that were going to work in Orlando’s favor were nowhere to be seen and instead swung our way tonight, from Pau sweeping the floor with Lewis to Kobe brutalizing whoever was guarding him. Courtney Lee may have had a very good season and post-season so far, but that is done now as he is easy pickings for Kobe at this point. 

And Kobe did indeed pick him apart. He put up 40 points for the first time in his Finals career, and had the game been a little closer he would probably have picked up enough minutes to complete the triple-double he was closing in on. It wasn’t all Lee’s fault. Kobe spent much of his time destroying Mickael Pietrus, as well as anyone else they threw at him, willing his team to a game 1 victory. When Orlando briefly opened up a 5-point lead after inserting Nelson in the second quarter, Kobe came back in to stabilize the situation. He led the guys on a 10-0 run, reclaiming the lead for the Lakers and sending them into halftime with a 10-point lead. He came out in the third all guns blazing, getting into one of those zones where the Marvel Ultimate Alliance couldn’t have kept up with him. He tore the Magic apart on the pick and roll: when they went underneath, he pulled up for the J; when they crowded him, he sliced and diced his way through them on his way to the hoop; and when they cut off all his options, he somehow found a way to make the basket anyway, often with the opportunity for an and one after the fact. It was simply incredible, but only in a completely typical Kobe Bryant fashion. We have come to expect as much over the years, and he didn’t disappoint.

Then there was the supporting cast, all of whom played their roles to a tee. Pau was solid all around, looking anything but soft around the rim as he battled with Howard, jockeying for position in the post, crowding him off the spot, and generally swarming the whole Magic team around the basket. His length made things difficult for Orlando all night long, deflecting balls and contesting shots in the lane. Our other 7-footer had a good, if brief, performance tonight as well. Phil had them looking for Bynum early in the game, and he responded with aggression on the block and good defensive effort against Howard. He did pick up his customary two first quarter fouls, but only after he had knocked down a shot or two and doing his part to prevent any Superman dunks. Odom was aggressive as well and was our third player in double-figures with 11 and a hard-working 14 rebounds. Fisher didn’t have a huge role to play, but he had some early buckets that helped set the tone as well. Luke Walton had a helluva game as well, picking up 9 points on 4-for-5 shooting in 24 minutes. He was his typical savvy self, reading what the defense was giving him and knowing when to play his advantage and take it to the hole. He had three straight baskets at one point to help stretch the lead, and it was more of Doug Collins’ “found money” for us.

Only Ariza was slightly off-kilter, but it didn’t last too long. It may have been the anxiety over playing against his old team, but for whatever reason he looked full of jitters in the first quarter. He was over-pursuing on defense and generally looked rushed on the floor. Phil did well to sit him down for a while in favor of Luke, who gave us some great minutes and allowed Trevor to settle himself down for the second half. I don’t expect him to have that same problem going forward in the series.

It’s tough to extrapolate too much from this game because, as they say, it’s just one game. Whether you win by 20 or you win by 1, you’re still just up 1-0 and need three more wins to close it out. What you can be assured of is that the Magic will come back with a much better effort in the next game and are not likely to shoot so poorly again in this series. Obviously, the Lakers present much different match-up problems than they were accustomed to playing against on their road to the Finals through the East, and with as good a coach as SVG, they are sure to rebound. And for as much credit as I give our defense tonight – specifically in the ability to play Howard straight up without committing extra defenders and not allowing him any easy looks – the Magic simply missed shots. On other nights, those shots are going to be falling and we’ll have to find a way to respond. The margin of victory suggests that we have some wiggle room there, but I don’t think there is a Lakers fan out there who isn’t a little worried about our consistency. That said, after witnessing Kobe’s display both during the game and afterward, I don’t think he’s going to allow us to lose. He just wants it too much and is too dangerous to be stopped by anyone the Magic can put on him. Couple that with the fact that he never has to guard a primary offensive option and you have a formula for a dominant series for #24 and likely for Lakers success. Look for us to hold court in game 2 as well.

Recap:

Highlights:

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That’s How It’s Done

Posted by hiphopmama on May 27, 2009

What can Brown do for you?

What can Brown do for you?

Denver 94, LA Lakers 103
     Lakers lead series 3-2

 Now that is how you play team basketball. With the talent level the Lakers have, there is no excuse for the kind of lackluster performances they’ve been turning in. Even in their wins the last two rounds, they haven’t played particularly well, just sort of scraping by and getting enough clutch plays from Kobe to make it through. There have only been two games in which we’ve played like the Lakers we’re capable of being: game 5 against the Rockets, and tonight. Those were the only two where the whole team showed up ready to scrap for every possession, dive for every loose ball, and it showed in the result. Maybe we’re only entitled to one a series. Whatever the case, I’m glad we got it tonight.

It’s ridiculous that it still needs to be reinforced at this point, but somehow the message got through that they needed to really get after the ball and play like it meant something. What a novel concept, I know, but it worked at reigniting the fire that has been missing from this team for some time. They actually looked like the team we saw run off long winning streaks in the middle of the season, with various role players stepping up at key moments to bolster the squad. Tonight, we got big assists from lots of places. The biggest one was Lamar Odom, who put down his bag of Gummy Bears and applied some Icy Hot before finally making a mark on a game in this series. I understand that his back is hurting and he’s battling through it, but it was nice to see him bring it all together in one game. Before the tip, I told my husband, “I’d like to see one of those games where Lamar grabs like 20 rebounds again.” He didn’t quite make it to 20, but he certainly fulfilled, being the offensive force we needed off the bench and running down rebound after rebound. Those four blocks didn’t hurt, either.

The other player to step up big time was Shannon Brown. His monster jam over Chris Andersen (I refuse to use his pseudonym) sparked both the crowd and the team and started the quarter-spanning run that saw us grow the lead to eleven points in the fourth. To be honest, he was playing so damn well, I didn’t want to see him go out, even (or maybe especially?) to bring Fisher in. By that time, more than halfway through the fourth quarter, it was all but locked up anyway, although Melo did manage to stretch it out for a couple more possessions. Luckily it was too little too late for the Nuggets, who will try to force a game seven back in Denver on Friday.

One note on Kobe’s understated statline tonight. He was simply masterful in this one. He scored just 22 on 13 shots, but he orchestrated the game to perfection, drawing the double-team, baiting the defenders, and then dropping it off like a quarterback dropping back for the screen pass. It was beautiful, and a sign of his maturity that he was advised before the game to be more of a facilitator tonight and he came up with the goods. No worries about scoring or shot attempts, only about Ws. He’s still got his issues, but selfishness is no longer one of them. 

And for the record, I don’t think either of the last two games was poorly officiated. Both coaches can shut the fuck up and eat a fat one if they want to blame a loss on the refs. Phil got his deserved fine, but Karl got his digs in tonight too, whining about “home whistles” and the like. Look, everyone knows there is some element of home cooking that goes on, but it swings both ways as the teams travel back and forth. If you have one less game on your home floor in a series, that’s your bad for underperforming in the regular season, not the league’s or the officials’ for calling it pretty darn consistently. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the NBA refs are the best in any of the big three sports. You can throw in international football (soccer) as well, though I can’t attest to officiating in hockey. I have some problems with calling cheap flagrants and technicals, but that’s a league office problem because they’re the ones who instruct the refs on how to make those calls in the first place. If you have a problem with that, take it up with David Stern, preferably by punching him in his smug little face. I can’t stand that guy. He can shove his dress code up the business end of his Armani suit.

Recap (first half only):

Oh, and my husband won $20 on the Champions League result. Color me blaugrana for the day.

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A Champion Caliber Win

Posted by hiphopmama on May 8, 2009

Lakers Rockets
LA Lakers 108, Houston 94
     Lakers lead series 2-1

Now that is how you play and win a playoff game.  Not just any playoff game, either, but a potentially series-swinging one in a contentious match-up against a serious contender. There was very little in the way of “afters,” as they would refer to it in soccer, referring to the extracurricular activities that marred game 2. There were a couple of contentious moments, but other than that, both teams just played hard, playoff basketball and gave it absolutely everything they had.

The normally stellar refs had another good game under difficult circumstances. They managed to keep a lid on what could have been a powder keg of a game, and they got the Vujacic call right even if they got the Artest call wrong. Sasha did come down a little hard on Wafer on that three-point shot, but in reality the Nilla-man jumped at a 45-degree angle into him, which could have been called a foul on the Rockets player instead. They gave him his three free throws and got on with the game, as they should have. The Artest call, on the other hand, was not so artfully handled. Yes he came across Pau’s head a bit and he crashed awkwardly to the ground, but he at least appeared to have some intent to go for the ball and clearly wasn’t looking to cause any kind of injury. It was either a hard regular foul (my vote) or a flagrant 1 at most. I could have understood the refs going with the flagrant 1 because of the circumstances of this series, but a flagrant 2 was pretty excessive. I fully expect that one to be overturned or at least reduced, and certainly no suspension handed down.

And the game. What a game. As a Laker fan, it was about all I could have hoped for. At this point you know they’re not going to blow anybody out and keep them down double digits the whole way, especially not against as tough a team as the Houston Rockets, so grinding out a convincing victory even through the nail-biting moments is as good as it gets. It shows that kind of champions poise that we’ve been looking for in them, and which they lacked woefully in game 1, and it is the first serious indication that they may be back on the right track. 

The first quarter was close, and the biggest edge we could claim was that we won the battle of the pace of the game by putting up 30 points in the first 12 minutes. We played the second quarter even but claimed the moral advantage by taking a 2-point lead into halftime with some good play to close the half, but we really got our mojo working in the third quarter, when we scored 24 and held Houston to a mere 14 points. As always, when our defense is knuckling down, there is little anyone can do to hang with us since we have such a killer offense. 24 points isn’t exactly a huge haul for us in a single quarter, but when we hold our opponents to 14 it is as good as 30 or more. 

We rode that 12-point advantage through the fourth quarter to a victory despite a few tense minutes when the Rockets got to within 6 on a Yao Ming slam dunk. Instead of panicking, though, we simply ran our offense, upped our defense, and gritted our teeth to get the victory. The next trip down court, Farmar calmly drained a baseline jumper, and Kobe hit a ridiculous three as the shot clock was winding down to bump it back up an 11-point gap.

And that, effectively, was the game. This was a quintessential playoff game in many ways, with defense being the foremost. Neither team made it to 44% shooting, but we won that stat battle, holding the Rockets to 41.7% while shooting 43.9% ourselves. Our distributed scoring was another hallmark of our good team play, as Kobe’s 33 was amply supported by 16 from Odom, 13 from Pau and Ariza, 12 from Farmar, and 8, 6, and 4 from Brown, Walton, and Bynum, respectively. The most impressive stat of the night, for my money anyway, was the turnover breakdown. While we scored 20 points off 17 Rockets turnovers, they were only able to capitalize with 5 points off just 6 turnovers. That means that all game long, we took care of the ball every single possession except for 6. That is simply incredible, especially for this Lakers team, which often seems to think it can get away with any number of turnovers by hitting shots. 

To me, this game came down to good coaching. No disrespect to Adelman, who has clearly done an incredible job getting the most out of this team without its best player and leading scorer, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the savvy – or star power – as Phil Jackson, and PJ worked his magic again tonight. No Derek Fisher? Fine, we start Jordan Farmar and instill the confidence and readiness in him to go out and have the biggest game of his career. (His stat line was 12 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1 turnover, by the way.) We lost home court and need this win to put ourselves back in the driver’s seat? Okay, our guys will come out ready and grind through a tough defensive game despite the “soft” label that is still being bandied about. The accusation that we don’t want it enough? Pfft. Just read our efficiency statistics and tell me who was better prepared for this game.

Let’s not get it twisted, now. This series is still a long way from over. That 75% number they kept quoting for teams who win game 3 after being tied 1-1 is all well and good, but it still means that 1 in 4 teams who lose game 3 come back to take the series. Those aren’t the most reassuring numbers as far as I’m concerned, and when this Rockets team is involved, I’m even tentative to call this more than a momentary advantage. But tonight’s was a huge game, make no mistake, and I do believe it will be a postseason-defining moment for us. If we can really drive the stake into their hearts all the way in the next game, we could essentially break their spirits and set ourselves up to close it out at home just like in the first round, as remarkable as that sounds. Will it happen? I’m not sure, but I’d say we have a good chance of doing it with our squad back at full strength Sunday with Fish’s return. My fingers are definitely crossed, though.

Highlights:

And here is Kobe’s 30+ footer to close the third quarter and give us the 12-point cushion that saw us through:

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The Laker Nation: Thinking of Revoking My Citizenship

Posted by hiphopmama on May 6, 2009

"Besame mucho"

"Besame mucho"

Houston 98, LA Lakers 111
    Series tied 1-1

This is the kind of night where I’m not proud to be a Laker fan. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t as bad as the Laker Haters (their official name) will have you believe, nor will it merit David Stern’s sure-to-be-extensive whining, but it wasn’t pretty either. And for as much as we took, we gave even more, acting like instigating little bitches more often than not. This is not how I want us to win a game, let alone a championship.

Here is my take on the extracurricular events:

It all started with Lamar Odom and Luis Scola. I have no fucking clue what sparked that one, but Lamar was talking to him from pretty early on – yapping in his face after blocking his shot and just generally being a punk. At the time, I was confused, because you never really see that from him and Scola seems so unassuming, but when I saw him tugging on Lamar’s jersey later on I figured he must have done something to spark it. Whatever the case, those two got the ball rolling and the everybody else ran with it from there. After a little extra English on a Scola foul on Odom, Lamar had something to say, as did Walton and Vujacic, which resulted in some technical fouls. The next possession, Fisher came out set to take one of those much-ballyhooed “message fouls” on Scola to put him in his place. Unfortunately, he went at him a little too hard and got himself ejected with a flagrant 2. I really think the thing that earned him the ejection was the extended elbow. Or maybe it was the way he tensed himself up in anticipation of the collision after looking over his shoulder to make sure it was Scola coming to set the screen. Either way, Fish was shown the door and it was officially on, if it wasn’t before. 

Things actually settled down for the better part of a quarter and a half, until Ron Artest finally hit his breaking point. And Kobe had to go and play the fucking instigator. That really is the perfect word for him. He’s probably my favorite player just based on how much I love to watch him do what he does – for everything else, Dwyane Wade is at the top of my list – but as a person he’s an ass-wipe. Most of the people who are the best at what they do are such unsavory types. Kobe just has a little extra of the punk-ass juice in him, and when he threw a little elbow up at Artest’s throat on a rebound but didn’t get called for a foul (somehow the refs put it on Ron-Ron himself – don’t ask, I have no idea either), Ron disputed the call before crossing the court to confront Kobe. On second look at it, it probably just should have been a technical rather than an ejection, as he got in Kobe’s face and made his point without any real physical aggression, but his reputation probably preceded him in this instance and he was given his marching orders. 

The only real action after that was a technical for taunting that Kobe got for telling Battier, for the umpteenth (unnecessary) time, “You can’t guard me.” Kobe looked shocked at the call, as it’s the kind of thing they usually let slide, but in a game like this they had to call it. You can’t really dispute that.

Oh, and the game itself? Even without all the extras it was a good one. We jumped out to a blazing start, got the lead as big as 15, then watched Houston come all the way back and take the lead. It was looking like the same old song and dance as last year’s finals, as we were getting out-toughed by a team that we really should have been beating. Then all the incidents and ejections and we actually managed to respond with the requisite level of grit needed to grind this one out. The subs finally came through, putting on a run with Kobe on the bench to regain the lead they had given up, as the team eventually made the decision to start hustling for loose balls and doing all the little things the Rockets had been doing better than us. The score wasn’t close in the end, but the intensity never wavered, right down to the final buzzer. 

There are plenty of questions left after this one. How hard will the hammer come down on all the players on the naughty list after this game? Will Fisher be suspended for game 3? Will Ron-Ron or Kobe be fined, and will Kobe be assessed any kind of foul after the fact for that elbow he obviously threw? How will the repercussions of this play out over the rest of this and any subsequent series? All tough to answer. I’ll wager the following guesses:

  • Kobe will get a fine for the elbow, maybe some kind of flagrant 1 assessed. Nothing more is merited, and nothing more will likely be given.
  • Artest’s ejection should be plenty of punishment for his actions, especially since it was probably excessive to begin with. I don’t foresee anything extra there.
  • Fisher has a good chance of being suspended for the next game. I can’t say for sure which way they’ll go with that one, but I can see that whatever they choose, they’ll be justified. On the Laker side, it was the same kind of foul Deron Williams took on Andrew Bynum in the last series which resulted in just a regular, garden variety foul being called. Plus it’s Derek Fisher, and how often do you see that sort of thing from him? On the side of actual logic, it was premeditated, harsh, and involved an extended elbow. They can interpret that however they want, but a suspension wouldn’t be out of question by any means. All I can say is, come on, Jordan.
  • As for the repercussions? That’s difficult to say. I tend to think this melee will galvanize the Lakers and help them on their way, even if it’s just because they’re the more talented team so a little extra motivation will push them to higher heights than Houston. They needed to be reminded that it’s not going to be a cakewalk. Why that reminder was necessary I have no idea. I would have thought last year’s finals would have been enough, but out of sight, out of mind, I guess. This will definitely be a series to watch from now on.

And now, because it’s my blog and I can, I have a word to say about Artest. I like the guy. I can’t explain why, I’ve just always been in his corner. I really felt like that whole incident in Detroit was more the fault of the fans than the players, because spectators at sports events get way out of control. Can you imagine if one of those fat ugly white guys saw Artest walking down the street? Would they really have anything like that to say to him? No, they would cross the street and avert their eyes. But on a basketball court, all of a sudden they’re real brave. They deserved what they got. The league had to do what it did, because that kind of thing can never happen, but it’s still karma for a couple bitch-ass fans. Oh well. Now Artest is back and doing his best to rein in the temper that has gotten him in so much trouble, and I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt as much as any other player. He looked so under control and within his element in game 1 and most of game 2 that I was starting to believe, or maybe hope, that he had finally figured it out. At the same time, though, I was waiting for him to snap, and he finally did, when Kobe threw that elbow up high at him. And to be honest, he deserved to have his say after the refs missed that one, and even to get in Kobe’s face about it a little bit. The thing that did him in was the fact that he crossed the court to do it and stayed with it a little too long. Oh, and the fact that he was Ron Artest. That didn’t help his case any either. I still hope he gets his act together so he can play out the rest of the series, because the way he’s performing he deserves as much shine as he can get. As much as I want us to beat the snot out of him and his team ON THE COURT, I still hope he plays well. 

A lot of Laker fans won’t like me for all of what I’ve said, but fuck it, that’s how I feel. I hate giving extra ammunition to all the Haters out there, but in this case most of it is true. Come on, Lakers, let’s win this the right way so we can feel good about our rings if and when they come. This whiny, instigating little posture is unbecoming of so talented a team. And if we can’t win without resorting to that stuff, then we don’t deserve to be wearing the purple and gold.

Highlights:

And here is Fisher’s foul on Scola:

And for anyone who still cares about the actual game, here’s a ridiculous play by Kobe:

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Easter Goodies

Posted by hiphopmama on April 12, 2009

Getting there, slowly but surely

Memphis game + no injury = good night

Memphis 75, LA Lakers 92

(64-17)

This was a well-played game. Not perfect, not without its typical Laker moments, but well executed and well within control throughout. Well, after the 8-0 start the Grizzlies had and the three minutes it took us to score. But after that, it was smooth sailing. What’s more, I’d say we accomplished the things we needed to in this essentially meaningless game which was more preparatory for the playoffs than anything else.

It looked like Phil had given them the mission of executing well and smoothing out the rough edges in anticipation of more important games, and almost everyone did that. Kobe streamlined his numbers, taking just 9 shots and making 7 of them for 16 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists in 29 minutes. Pau had a rough start but eventually settled down and did well against his brother to grab a double-double of 12 and 13. Ariza and Fisher used the game to get themselves back on track a little, with Fisher trying to shoot himself out of a slump and Ariza accomplishing the same feat by getting to the basket. 12 points, 3 steals, 4 rebounds, and 6-of-9 shooting will get it done every night from Trevor. The subs also contributed solid minutes. Lamar didn’t have fabulous numbers, but his presence was a boost for the team. Luke was perfect on the night, making all of his shots and dishing it off for some beautiful assists, including a between-the-legs bounce pass to Vujacic for the jumper. Sasha played some feisty defense and shot the ball well. And Shannon Brown played even more positive minutes, getting himself on the highlight reel with a big dunk on the break for a three-point play.

Then, of course, there was Andrew Bynum. Don’t get me wrong – he’s still off – but he worked his way to a team-high 18 points on 6-of-10 in just 25 minutes. He probably would have played more if not for the fact that he picked up some early fouls and had to sit for the better part of the third quarter. Still, he made the most of his minutes, working around the basket and easing his way into the game again. If he can get some good minutes in the Utah game and use the first couple rounds of the playoffs to be reintroduced to the full rotation, hopefully he will be close to full strength for the big time.

And now, because I liked it so much last time, the good, bad, and ugly again. Good’s up first:

  • The Lakers. Yep, the team as a whole played this one great from start to finish. Or, more precisely, from three minutes in to finish. After that early deficit, they jumped in front and never looked back. There was a brief moment in the second half when Memphis cut the lead to 6, but it never got that close again and was as high as 19. Finally a straightforward win.
  • Luke Walton. The whole team played well, but Luke deserves a special shout-out for his brilliant tactical game. His court awareness and ability to pick players out at impossible angles always amazes me. I remember when he led the PAC-10 in assists as a center at Arizona, but I never expected he could keep up that pace. He has, and his unique skill set is a crucial piece to our puzzle. If he can occasionally knock down the open shot the defense will inevitably give him, he will be a great asset indeed in the postseason.
  • The Laker D. Another surprising note, but we have looked mighty solid on defense the last few games. We held Memphis to 36.6% shooting and 75 points, plus kept their leading scorer to 10 points. We also kept their surging PG in check and essentially anonymous, which is something we wouldn’t have been able to do earlier in the season. All good trends going forward.
  • Phil’s player rotation. Substitution decisions are an almost mystical science that few can master, but PJ knows exactly how to shuffle the deck. He has worked everyone into the mix and knows what he can expect from them in different situations. My only quibble is over Josh Powell’s disappearance from the rotation. He was playing a bigger role right after Bynum was injured, and I thought he did quite well, fighting for offensive rebounds and knocking down that face-up jumper. I could still see him playing a role in certain match-ups in the playoffs. Just another good option stuck at the end of our very deep bench. 
  • O.J. Mayo. Wow is this kid good. I’ll be honest – I didn’t see him making the transition to the NBA this well at all. I thought he might be a little one-dimensional, a little soft, not mentally prepared. Obviously I was completely wrong. He leads all rookies in scoring and is right there in contention for Rookie of the Year honors. Even with all that, I think the nod should go to Derrick Rose, just because of the greater burden he has had to bear as point guard and the composure he has shown in that role. But you couldn’t be mad at the choice of Mayo either.

The bad:

  • Darko Milicic. Yeah, it’s a cheap shot, but it’s still true. What a bust. I always thought it was a bad decision to take him, especially over Melo, and you’d have to agree I got at least that one right. He still looks lost out there, even after a few years in the league and doesn’t seem to really care. He is not a long-term project – he’s a lost cause.
  • Jordan Farmar. With just 13 minutes, it’s hard to say he got a real chance to get going, but he still looks all wrong out there. Falling behind Shannon Brown in the rotation won’t have helped any either, but he’s got to earn his way back into playing time rather than hang his head. Tomorrow is his last chance to prove he deserves a bigger role in the postseason.

The ugly:

  • Nothing really, except for maybe our three-point shooting. We were a dismal 3-for-15 (20%), but happily no one took more than 3 so it wasn’t like players were indulging out there. Not too much of a worry in a throw-away game like this one.

Highlights:

Cleveland thwomped Boston today at home, so while it’s not mathematically impossible for us to catch them, it is everything but at this point. If we win our final game against Utah and they lose their last two – at Indiana and home against Philadelphia – we would have the same record and own the tie-breaker because we swept the season series against them. Seeing as how we’re the only team to win in Cleveland this year, however, it doesn’t seem likely. I don’t particularly care, since we can obviously beat them at home and have superior experience and a deeper bench, but I suppose it’s worth keeping an eye on. Till Tuesday.

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WTF Is Up With Portland?

Posted by hiphopmama on April 10, 2009

Is it the postseason yet?

Is it the postseason yet?

LA Lakers 98, Portland 106

(63-17)

Even more importantly, what is up with Phil? He just didn’t feel like traveling to the Pacific Northwest this weekend? He needed a little breather before the playoffs? I’ve never heard of a coach missing a game for a foot injury, but I am not yet of that venerable age so maybe I just don’t get it. Whatever the case, we were coach-less tonight, with Kurt Rambis filling in for the beardless one, and I can’t believe I’m saying this but it actually mattered. Not an excuse, just something to note. Believe me – we don’t need any excuses for losses in the Rose Garden. Not at this point anyway.

I won’t go into the whole game much. It was a good one, with both teams sparring and feeling each other out, taking what the opponent had to offer and then counter-punching with the best of them. The teams traded leads a few times, but a Portland surge gave the Blazers a small lead late and forced us to play catch-up down the stretch. Kobe and Brandon Roy squared off in a battle of two of the game’s best closers, and Kobe was not the victor tonight. Granted, it’s easier to play as the front-runner in that situation, but Roy was tough as nails and aggressive in the clutch. It takes cojones to want to take those meaningful shots late in games, and Roy was sporting a Sam Cassell pair in this one. After Kobe and Wade, he’s the best I’ve seen this year. As with Dwyane, I can’t even be mad about it because I like the dude.

I’m baffled as to how this can be, but I actually like this Blazers team as a whole. It’s quite a change from their old toker persona, when Sheed and Stoudemire were passing blunts rather than basketballs, and their youngsters are a likable bunch. LaMarcus Aldridge, despite a relatively quiet 16 tonight, has an impressive all-around game to complement his size and strength on the block. Steve Blake is one of those hard-nosed utility guys at the point, and he proved he can hit key shots tonight as well. Travis Outlaw is another fun player to watch and is explosive off the bench. And Brandon Roy is a superstar in the making who I fully expect to be a perennial all-star in the league. To top it off, none of them has the A-hole attitude that the old Blazers possessed in spades. Batum has his moments, but nothing that approaches Rasheed levels of impertinence. I wish them well, although I wouldn’t be sad to see them go out in the first round. I’ll be damned if I want to see us head up to Portland again this year.

And now to swagger-jack one of my favorite soccer blogs, Ole Ole’s Chelsea blog, with the following segment: the good, the bad, and the ugly. First off the good:

  • Shannon Brown. He has been by far my favorite Laker over the past week. He comes in and just does his job with the requisite hustle. Shooting 4-for-4 with two 3-pointers doesn’t hurt, either, and his contributions were much appreciated tonight, as evidenced by his 20 minutes on the floor. Farmar has slipped way down the bench, playing just 5 minutes tonight and going 0-for-2, but I’m not particularly sad about it. Brown even proved that he can fill in at the point a little, paired with Sasha in the backcourt, which gives us lots more options in there. For a throw-in on a cap-saving trade deal, he’s been quite an addition. 
  • Brandon Roy. Gotta give credit where it’s due, and Roy certainly earned it tonight. He didn’t have the most amazing shooting night, but just like Kobe, he found a way to get it done when it counted and his team reaped the benefits. Keep an eye on this one. (Not “that one,” as per McCain. Just saying.)
  • Kobe Bryant. I suppose you have to put him in here for scoring 32 points and carrying us down the stretch, but it wasn’t a stellar performance from him in general. He was in foul trouble from jump, picked up a technical foul, and spent more time pouting than defending at times. Wait, this is the “good” section…
  • Lamar Odom. 17 points off the bench, plus 10 boards for the double-double. That is one helluva sixth man. Bynum is still a step – or maybe two or three – slow, but the ability to bring a player like Odom off the bench is a huge luxury that we should use to our advantage from here on out.

And the bad:

  • Derek Fisher. 1-for-7 and 2 points in 23 minutes. Is he getting tired? He definitely had to carry a heavy load this season when Farmar went out, so maybe it’s catching up with him. Maybe he’s just coasting to the finish line before the postseason push. Don’t want to be too harsh on him because he’s always come through for us when we needed him, but I’m hoping he can pick it up in the playoffs. We need his leadership out there, but not without any kind of production.
  • Trevor Ariza. He came out with a bang when he was first inserted into the starting line-up, but his effectiveness has waned since then. Even his defense hasn’t been as sparkling as usual, so I wonder whether a move back to the bench might not be in order. He seems to thrive there anyway.
  • Team defense. Okay, that’s not entirely true, but at the same time it is. We held the Blazers to 42.7% shooting and took them out of their offense at times, but we got all of 2 steals for the whole game. What happened to the old swarming team that forced double-digit turnovers in a half? I understand that a more settled D is helping us hold down opponent shooting percentages, but the drop-off can’t be this huge. We just looked tired tonight, which makes sense since it was the second of a home-away back-to-back. We also had just one block to Portland’s 6 and were out-rebounded 44-39. 
  • Pau Gasol. This one may seem unmerited, but even at 6-of-9 from the floor it was an off night for Pau. He only had 12 points and, despite the score sheet listing him as just 1 turnover, made a number of iffy plays that hurt our possession chances. Ticky-tack fouls, followed by plenty of whining, and little of the aggression he’s shown this year. Again, I’m attributing it to end of season lethargy. Please prove me right.

And finally, the ugly:

  • Game management. Kurt, you may have designed a good defensive strategy for this team, but you, sir, are no Phil Jackson. Big surprise, I know, but Phil’s absence was palpable tonight, much to my own shock. PJ is usually barely sentient on the sidelines, sporting the same expression in good times and bad, but he at least has the team prepared. Kurt didn’t do that tonight. As the game wound down and we were playing catch-up, he just didn’t have the guys ready to make the necessary plays. He called time-outs that Phil wouldn’t, because apparently he hadn’t thought ahead to call the next play as PJ would have, and even our veteran point guard committed an ill-advised foul when we just needed to play tough D. Kobe was furious, and some of the blame must lie with Fish, but the coach should have drilled the plan into the players’ heads before that point. We were like an orchestra without our maestro tonight. And I thought he was just a figurehead. 

So there you have it. An over-long run-down of that one, but I felt it was needed following another disappointing loss in Portland. Thank god we at least have home court against these fools come playoff time, although I won’t be rooting for that match-up. Two more home games and then we’re off. And home court throughout is looking less and less likely.

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