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Posts Tagged ‘luke walton’

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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Four More Left

Posted by hiphopmama on May 29, 2009

The masterminds

The masterminds

LA Lakers 119, Denver 92
     Lakers win series 4-2

Finally. Finally we put two wins together, and two good wins at that, including one on the road. We played as a team, hustled for loose balls, and took advantage of our huge size advantage on the inside. All things we should have been doing from the beginning, sure, but at least it finally clicked and we got the job done at the first opportunity.  No need for a game seven, we got that crucial close-out experience on the opponent’s floor, and the whole squad got involved in an impressive effort. Am I gushing? If so, it’s only because I have so rarely gotten to do it in this postseason, so I have to take advantage of it now. As last year showed, you can’t count on anything going into that last series, so for now, congrats to the Western Conference Champions and good luck heading into the Finals. If we play the way we did tonight, it won’t be a problem. 

And have no doubt, tonight we put on a clinic. The team came out aggressive, fighting on every possession, offensive and defensive, and it really set the tone. Pau said in his press conference, and I completely I agree, that it was the first road game where they really came out with the right energy from the opening tip, and they pay-off was an early lead that they were able to slowly build over the course of the game. Denver made a run early and briefly took the lead, but we responded well and closed the first half with a 13-point lead that proved insurmountable on a night when our role players were hitting their shots. 

Speaking of role players, did you see Trevor Ariza tonight? He was the primary reason we got off to a good offensive start, hitting three first-half threes and helping build that early lead. He finished a ridiculous 7-of-9 for 17 points and more solid defense on Carmelo. Lamar also came through for the second straight game, grabbing 8 rebounds and scoring 20 points at a cool 7-for-12 clip. He even knocked down both his three-point attempts, and at crucial moments for the team. Luke Walton was our fifth player in double figures in his role backing up Ariza, who got into a little foul trouble chasing Melo around. His 10 points were what Doug Collins calls “found money” in that we weren’t counting on his scoring in any way so it was a nice boost.

And then there were the big two. I’ve always maintained that Pau is the team’s barometer, and he buoyed us to victory tonight. Lamar is the X-factor and puts us absolutely over the top, making us all but unbeatable when he’s on form. But even with just an average game from the supporting cast, a solid outing from Gasol will usually be enough to get us the win. That was the case again in game 6, as he went 8-for-12 for 20 points and padded his statline with 12 boards, 6 assists, and 3 steals. Not to mention all the solid interior defense he played. Pau’s D in the paint was one of the major factors in our quick start, preventing the Nuggets from getting to the rim or developing any kind of rhythm. I’m surprised to see that he only blocked one shot, but he certainly affected a great deal more than that. Kobe was just Kobe. He came out with the perfect balance between facilitator and scorer, picking and choosing when to dish the ball and when to go for delf. As always, he was clutch down the stretch, but his most important moments for the team were at the close of the first half, when he spurred a huge run to send us into the locker room with all the momentum. From his step-back three to his left-handed block on Anthony’s floater at the buzzer, he led his team by example and showed them what was needed to close out a series on the road. And speaking of sweet statlines, here was Kobe’s: 35 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 block. All at an efficient 12-for-20 clip. You think he’s ready for the Finals?

Obviously that was a rhetorical question, but it’s not out of line to ask that question about the rest of the team. I hope and pray that this was finally the time when we turn the page on our iffy ways and put together a run of good games, but I’m hesitant to go that far. To be honest, this is more than I could have hoped for in game 6. Some Laker fan I am, I was expecting us to have to close it out at Staples on Sunday. Needless to say, I am properly humbled and vastly happy that it didn’t go that way, but I’m also too pragmatic to believe that we’ve put a complete end to our inconsistency. I think the most one can say is that we will hopefully carry the momentum of winning back-to-back good ones against a tough opponent with us as we prepare for an invariably tougher match-up with whoever we face in the Finals. Now that’s a road to be crossed on a different day. I’m just enjoying this one while it lasts.

Recap:

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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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Luke To Play In Game 2

Posted by hiphopmama on May 6, 2009

Yay! Like, seriously, though, not sarcastically. I know, he’s not exactly the center of our offense or a defensive lynchpin, but he helps anchor our rotation nonetheless. I can’t help but think we would have seen less of the Shannon-Sasha-Kobe combo if Walton had been healthy, and I wouldn’t mind watching that partnership get phased out. It works at times, but Sasha is best used sparingly, like salt. Plus Kobe’s natural spot is at the two, especially so he doesn’t have to match up with that rock known as Ron Artest. That guy is a beast – hopefully we can do something to slow him down in this game. Luckily for us, he’s usually pretty up and down. Unluckily for us, he doesn’t look anything like the Artest of old, so all that may be out the window. We shall see….

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Kobe Wills Us To 3-1

Posted by hiphopmama on April 25, 2009

Michael Moment 1 of 39482039572945

Michael Moment 1 of 39482039572945

 

LA Lakers 108, Utah 94
  
  Lakers lead series 3-1

Now THAT was more like it. That was the game we all knew we could play but were scared to hope for too much. You know what I’m talking about. Defensive effort for long stretches of time. Controlling the glass with solid box-outs and all-out effort. Smooth flowing offense and good transition defense. And maybe, now and then, a jaw-dropping game from Mr. Bryant.

Kobe came out determined to wipe out the memory of 5-for-24, and he started his mission 17 seconds in with a jumper at the top of the key. Drilled it. A minute later and he’s back at it, just inside three-point line. Swish. 40 seconds later, another. And so on and so on, till he had gone 6-for-8 in the first quarter and gotten us off to a decent start. 

To be honest, our start wasn’t particularly impressive as we were outscored 25-20 in the first, but we found our rhythm in the second with some big shots from the bench. First Luke makes a three from the corner. Then Sasha drills one straight out. And finally Shannon Brown drains one to give us a two-point lead that we never looked back from. When Kobe came back in from his customary early-quarter rest, he took the game back over with a couple free throws and two long-distance jumpers, one for three, sending us into the locker room up seven, 60-53.

The third quarter was us entirely. Both teams traded shots for the first ten or so possessions, neither side missing a shot, until…well, until nothing, really. After a fast-paced start to the half, with Kobe owning the Jazz again to the tune of four straight deep J’s, things sort of slowed down, to our benefit. The Jazz started having to grind it out and our defense stepped up, so that, with a free throw here and a lay-up there, we were able to work the lead up to double-digits. From 11 to 14 and finally to 19 to close the third, it was a steady upward climb.

The fourth quarter was more of the same. Shannon got us out of the blocks nicely with some good hustle play as part of Phil’s new favorite back-court: Brown, Vujacic, and Kobe. They were out there with some combination of Walton, Odom, and Gasol at various times, and it worked well for us. It’s a very atypical thing for Jackson to do, but credit to him for switching it up when necessary. Utah did eventually string a few points together to get it down to around 15, thanks to some lax play from us, and I was encouraged to see Phil call a time-out to convey his unhappiness with the casualness. We ended up with a 14-point win and a convincing victory in an arena where we’ve had our problems. 

This win was just what the doctor ordered after having our faces slapped in game three. Utah basically said to us, “Yeah, you’re the best team, but you still have to beat us.” We weren’t up to the challenge on Thursday, but we most definitely were tonight and I don’t see us looking back after this performance. I’ve already used the word multiple times, but I was so encouraged to see us play like this in response to a tough loss on the road. This bounce-back is what the playoffs are about, at least for the victors, so it was – yes – encouraging for our team to step up so thoroughly. 

Oh, and that Kobe guy? He’s pretty darn good. He went all Michael on the Jazz tonight, and it was all they could do to wave a hand at him now and then. Not to say they didn’t play some serious defense on him. He just had better offense, every single time. I can’t even count how many contested jumpers he drained with a hand or two in his face, falling away, out of rhythm, after two or three ball fakes. That kind of skill should be blasphemy. It’s just completely unfair. Gosh it’s nice to have him on our team. =) 

So what’s the word tonight, Josh? “Pwned”? That gets my vote.

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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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Welcome Back, Andrew!

Posted by hiphopmama on April 9, 2009

Nuggets Lakers

Denver 102, LA Lakers 116

(63-16)

How much have we missed Andrew Bynum? It’s hard to quantify exactly, especially when you consider how good our record without him has been. But it only took one game with him back to see how much he helps our line-up, even hobbled and out of shape after missing 32 games, because of how much improved our rotation is when he’s available. It’s a tough blow for Odom to be sent back to the bench after performing admirably in Drew’s absence, but how much better is our second unit with Lamar as playmaker and sparkplug. It will be an adjustment, to be sure, but I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see Luke, Lamar, Sasha, and Shannon Brown/Jordan Farmar in there with Pau while Kobe got a rest. That’s a second unit I can live with. In fact, now that Odom is coming off the bench, I could see Walton moving back into the starting line-up because we don’t need him to settle the subs as much with Lamar out there to run the offense. That makes our second unit that much more dangerous, especially because Ariza seems to thrive on catching teams off guard when he comes off the bench. The possibilities are endless.

The game itself deviated from the standard Laker script slightly. Instead of building a big lead in the second half and then nearly blowing it late, we maintained a middling lead for most of the game and then slowly put it out of reach over the course of the second half. It was a much less nerve-wracking storyline than the usual one, and it made Andrew’s return a more settling one as we got to work him in in spots without putting too much pressure on him on the production end. We did give up one lead, in the second quarter, when we watched the Nuggets tie it up at the halftime buzzer despite being generally outplayed by us. Actually, that’s not entirely fair, as we shot poorly and Denver did their part by hanging around. Our entire advantage boiled down to offensive rebounding and foul shooting in the first half, but we picked up the defense in the second and it helped spark the offense. From there, it was just a matter of working up the lead, and Denver’s propensity to get into foul trouble only helped matters. Dahntay Jones started the foul-fest by picking up three quick ones in the first couple minutes of the third quarter, which sent him to the bench and helped us get into the penalty by the six-minute mark. Carmelo followed shortly thereafter with his fourth, as did Johan Petro. When Kobe decided to take the game over in the fourth, it just sealed the deal. If this is the best the Western Conference has to offer, I’m not particularly worried.

Aside from Bynum’s return, my favorite development in this game was the continued emergence of Shannon Brown. Perhaps more important was the evidence of Phil’s growing trust in the young guard, as he was the first man off the bench when Fisher picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter. He didn’t just spell Fish, though. He played some solid minutes, hitting a three, getting fouled on another three-point effort for a few free throws, and playing some feisty defense. I’m not entirely sure why, since he hasn’t proven himself completely yet, but I like seeing Brown off that bench before Vujacic and Farmar, maybe just because I know he’s more likely to stay within the established system and not go off on some individual tangent and kill our momentum. It’s nice that some of our old hands are comfortable enough to want to improvise a little, but when you’re a role player, you need to know your role and pick your spots. Sasha and Jordan have both been guilty of forgetting that at times this year, so maybe a stint further down the bench will do them some good. 

Andrew played just 21 minutes and took a little while to warm up, quite understandably. His timing looked off in the early going, as did his footwork, but he picked it up considerably in the second half and made a number of good shots in addition to his solid rebounding. He shot 7-for-11 for 16 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, 4 of them offensive, and helped us get the early advantage on the boards which set the tone for the whole game. You couldn’t have asked for anything more in his first game back, and I only expect him to get stronger and more comfortable with each progressive game. With three games to go before the playoffs start, he should be able to do a little work to get his legs back under him, and we can work him back in slowly throughout the first couple rounds. With San Antonio falling by the wayside due to injury problems, I feel much more comfortable with the idea that he’ll need some extra time. His mere presence on the roster aids us considerably.

No highlights available yet. Damn, this game went late! I even caught up with the live broadcast and had to sit through commercials like some common TV viewer. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to watch a game live that I’ve lost all patience with commercial breaks. Oh well. I can handle it in a win. Back tomorrow for Portland. Keep your fingers crossed as we enter that Bermuda friggin’ Triangle known as the Rose Garden. By the way, how did the Blazers end up with such a decent name for their arena? Sure as hell beats Amway Arena.

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I’m Baaaack!

Posted by hiphopmama on April 7, 2009

Scruffy white guy alert

Scruffy white guy alert

LA Lakers 122, Sacramento 104

(62-16)

Please, dear readers – all both of you – forgive my extended absence. I just bought a house and spent the last week moving in, much of it without internet access. By the way, was anyone else aware of how much the world comes to a halt without the worldwide web? Apparently I have nothing to do, outside of menial household chores and unpacking, without the ‘net. Needless to say, I am glad to have some semblance of normalcy back and be watching the Lakers for the last five games of the regular season. Tonight was the first night since we moved that I’ve actually sat down to watch anything, and I only did minimal unpacking. I’ll get back on that bandwagon soon enough too.

As for the game, it was a good one to come back to. It didn’t look that way to start, with the Lakers falling behind by 12 points in the first quarter, but the time off has apparently given me some added perspective, because as I watched the Kings run up the score on us, I stayed calm and relatively certain that we would pull out of our funk. The Kings are a bad team – make no mistake – and there was no way they could keep shooting at a 70% clip, no matter how porous our defense. They put it on us the first three times we played, even getting a rare win against us, but without Brad Miller they were less able to open up the floor by pulling out our big guys. Plus, with no Andrew Bynum we’re a more mobile group out there and we guard the perimeter better. Whatever the case, it was only a matter of time before they cooled off and our offense kicked into gear, all of which happened in the second quarter. We put on a bit of a run to close the first down just 6 and then absolutely routed the Kings 40-18 in the second. It was a 28-point swing from down 12 to up 16, and it was an easy ride from then on out. Of course, we had a couple of lax stretches that let the Kings get to within 10, but we settled down pretty quickly and got the game back in hand.

The easy pickings were reflected in the lower minutes played by the starters – Gasol topped out at 37, Kobe and Odom at 31 – and extended time for the bench. The most impressive of the subs was easily Shannon Brown, who has looked good in his limited minutes so far. This is the first extended run I’d seen him given, and it included some good time in the first half that should reassure Phil that he can help shore up the backcourt for brief periods. He finished with 9 points on 4-of-7 shooting and a couple steals, plus no turnovers in his role as ball-handler. He’s a good hustle player with amazing athletic ability, and if he can prove his ability to play within the offense with minimal mistakes, he will be a good asset. Vujacic hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire, although his outside shooting always makes him a threat, and Farmar has been less than stellar as well, so an extra body to throw in there is a plus. 

Not to bash Sasha too much, because he had the play of the game with his dunk on half the Kings team in garbage time in the fourth quarter. It was all the more amazing because it came from Sasha, whom I’ve never seen get so much as a breakaway dunk before. Okay, maybe I have, but it wasn’t memorable enough to make an impression, so to see him facial on the Kings’ front line was jaw-dropping. It had me hitting the Back button on my DVR more than once. 

Another substitute who made a real impact was Luke Walton. He was part of the unit that got the Lakers back in it in the second quarter, and he orchestrated perfectly during his time on the court. His offensive gamesmanship was exceptional, as he picked up 11 points (on just 4 shots) and a whopping 9 assists in his 24 minutes. His willingness to move to the bench to anchor the second unit is a testament to his belief in the team concept, but it was also a brilliant tactical move that could pay dividends down the line. Ariza seems a touch less explosive since he doesn’t enter the game when everyone else is already huffing it a bit, but it’s still a good trade-off. Trevor had a good game as well with 14 points and his usual scrappy defensive effort. 

All in all it was a solid game that helped us pull within half a game (one loss) of the Cavs, who have a fairly straightforward set of games to close the season. They do have to take on Boston at home on the 12th and play Philadelphia twice, home and away, but Washington at home and Indiana on the road aren’t daunting proposition for Lebron and Co. We still have to play Denver at Staples on Thursday before traveling on Friday to Portland, where we still can’t win a game for some damn reason. We finish things out with a pair of home games against Memphis and then Utah before we get to the postseason and the real fun. Oh, and Bynum is coming back, probably on Thursday. He won’t be anything near full speed or strength right away, but even the ability to bring him off the bench – good lord, what an option – will strengthen the team considerably. And as much as it sucks, Manu Ginobili going out for the remainder of the season makes our road to the Finals that much smoother since no one besides the Spurs looked likely to really challenge us. Without Manu, they just don’t have enough firepower, if they ever did, to contend with us. Not to rule out Denver or Houston, or even – heaven forbid – Portland, but it’s going to take an effort both special and steadfast to knock us out, and I don’t see any team in the West that can measure up. Let’s hope I’m not just being over-confident.

Highlights:

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Kings of Detroit

Posted by hiphopmama on March 26, 2009

"Welcome to the new world, Detroit Rock City"

"Welcome to the new world, Detroit Rock City"

LA Lakers 92, Detroit 77

(57-14)

Who the fuck is Will Bynum, and how can we sign him? In all seriousness, we need one of those monstrously quick little dudes on the perimeter. Don’t get me wrong. I love Farmar, but when paired with Fish they’re not dynamic enough to match up with some of those spark plug guys other teams have in the backcourt. 

The game itself was a mixed bag, which translates to a typical Laker affair. We jumped out quickly on them, building a 13 point lead by the end of one, but then we faded into nothingness in the second quarter. The Pistons literally scored the first 17 points in the second before we ever got on the board. It was pure disgusture from the second unit (plus Pao, who is a part of every unit at this point). It’s not even worth pretending this bench so much as resembles what we saw earlier in the year, but it’s not entirely their fault. We have to remember that the first two guys off the pine – Odom and Ariza – are now in the starting line-up, meaning that our first-choice subs are now Farmar and Vujacic. Or maybe Powell and Walton. Either way, it’s a considerable drop-off, and it means that we are going to give up leads like this pretty regularly when the starters need a rest. 

Giving up leads is one thing. Complete capitulation to the forces of doom is another, and that’s what the team showed in the second quarter. It wasn’t just that they couldn’t run the offense – and they definitely couldn’t, make no mistake about that – but they also couldn’t defend for shit. We only gave up 12 points in the whole first quarter, but we let Detroit score more than that in the first five and a half minutes of the second. Will Bynum, the plucky little point guard forced into starting by AI’s absence, ate us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including aperitif and digestif. I guess you could say it’s a good sign that we haven’t seen that in a while, but it’s still a familiar pattern that I hope we don’t revert to.

The third quarter started to slip further away from us as we fell behind by 10, and then they pulled an us and disappeared for the remainder of the quarter. Phil uncharacteristically called a timeout to regroup, and they came out gangbusters after that. Kobe got aggressive without sacrificing the flow of the game; Ariza added a few hustle points; and Sasha capped it all with a three. But the real savior of the quarter was Derek Fisher, who exploded for 10 points in the third, including two three’s and a few free throws. He is so steady out there it’s ridiculous. He even had an ugly airball go wide, got heckled by the crowd, then ran right back up and nailed one. Farmar might be quicker, but he doesn’t have half the steadying influence Fish does and you can see it in how ragged our play gets when the veteran is out of the game. Someone find this man a philosopher’s stone.

Now that I have outed myself as a nerd, I will note that we finished the third on a 30-5 run after having trailed by 10, and we took a 15-point lead into the fourth. That proved to be enough to get us to the finish line, as Detroit was never able to climb closer than 10 after that. I don’t know if Phil was trying to enact some weird form of punishment, but the starters played the whole way down the stretch, even when the outcome was decided. He did eventually take Kobe out with a minute left, and Fisher and Odom followed shortly thereafter, but it was kinda bizarre watching them out there in garbage time when we have another game tomorrow in New Jersey and four more left in this road trip. Was he sending a message to the subs? Punishing the starters for past blown leads? Losing track of time while Twittering from the bench? I don’t know the reason, but any of our big guys picking up a knock in that situation would have been pretty hard to take, so I hope he’s gotten it out of his system.

While I was happy to see us pull out a good road win after looking so hapless, it should be noted that the Pistons were down three former All-Stars in Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, and Allen Iverson, all of whom were out with injuries. That we couldn’t put them away in the first half, after jumping out to an early lead, without their three best players is a little troubling. But I guess I’ll let it slide since we haven’t won in Detroit in nine years. Now if we can just get a win in Portland, we can shed that last monkey.

Game recap:

Highlights:

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Str8 Ballin’

Posted by hiphopmama on March 24, 2009

Lakers Thunder

"They can never take the game from a young G"

LA Lakers 107, Oklahoma City 89

(56-14)

Exactly one month after their last win in Oklahoma City, the Lakers were back for more, looking to stay within a single game of the Cavs. Like the last game, we jumped out to a quick lead, built that lead up, and then sort of coasted. Unlike the last game, the players – be they starters or subs – maintained the lead all the way to the finish. It was exactly the kind of game I am constantly imploring them to play, and for once they delivered. They led from the opening to the closing whistle, and the Thunder never got closer than 17 points in the second half.

The obvious upside of this was that the starters got a good rest in the fourth. Kobe sat out all of the final quarter, and Pau left with more than 8 minutes to go, which is plenty good news heading into the final five games of this road trip over the next eight days. Gasol somehow still managed to play 34 minutes, but no one else reached 30. Six players scored in double-figures (Kobe 19; Odom 18; Pau 14; Powell 14; Fisher 11; Walton 11), and Shannon Brown even came in and got a couple buckets, including an awesome dunk on the fast break. 

Full disclosure here, I didn’t get to actually watch this one. I remembered at the last minute and tried to tell it to record from the computer at my mom’s house, but the damn thing didn’t listen to me so I was stuck reading all the recaps and watching all the highlight packages I could find. I’m glad to hear I didn’t miss the most exciting match-up, but I would have liked to see them play a dominating start-to-finish game, since we don’t get to witness that too often. 

For whatever reason, I was looking to this road trip as a possible time for us to get our act together, and so far we look to be doing just that. Maybe there are less distractions on the road, or the team just has nothing better to do than focus on itself and what needs to be done. It seems pretty likely given that places like Oklahoma City don’t have quite the same night life as Los Angeles and its environs. Maybe the guys just get up for the challenge better with a sort of Tupac “Me Against the World” mentality, hunkering down around their play. Whatever the case, I like what I’ve seen so far, or at least since the comeback against the Bulls. That first half can go to hell.

We start the first of our two back-to-backs on this trip, heading to Detroit on Wednesday and then New Jersey on Thursday. I know we have a lot more road games left than Cleveland, but they’re not against real powerhouse teams for the most part. We do have to play Detroit and Atlanta this next week, and we have one more chance for redemption in Portland (dear god, please), but the toughest of our remaining match-ups are all at home: against Houston, Denver, and Utah. Lots of those games will test our mettle, to be sure, and knowing our tendency for lapses I’m sure we will indeed slip at some point(s). But I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say we might catch the Cavs after all, especially since we have the tiebreaker. Of the three big teams – us, Cleveland, and Boston – the Cavs have the biggest need for home court advantage, and I don’t even think it’s close. They still have just one loss at home all season, and, unlike the Lakers and Celtics, they haven’t proven they can get the requisite road wins to advance in the playoffs. This year is different, sure, but they’re still a young and relatively inexperienced team looking to make that breakthrough, so playing at home will help their chances greatly. And oh yeah, that one home loss? That was to us, suckers, so I’m not overly concerned with catching them. It would be nice – hella, to expose my NorCal leanings – but it’s not absolutely essential. I know everyone goes on and on about that game six lost last year in Boston, but that wasn’t down to being on the road. That certainly didn’t help, but our backs were broken on our own home floor in game four, when we gave up a 24-point lead to fall behind 3-1 in the series. Would it be nicer to play games 6 & 7 at home, along with those mood-setting first two? Hells yeah it would. But this team believes it can steal at least one game on anyone opponent’s court, so even without it they’ll be okay and likely to win or lose on their own merits. I still wish they’d do a 2-2-1-1-1 for the Finals, though. Who the hell can consistently string together three wins in the playoffs, even on their home floor??

Game recap:

Highlights:

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