All Balls Don’t Bounce

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

Posts Tagged ‘nene’

Still On Track For Seven

Posted by hiphopmama on May 25, 2009

Lakers Nuggets
LA Lakers 101, Denver 120
     Series tied 2-2

Another predictable, if still disappointing, result. We were all hoping game 3 would be a sign of things to come, but the pragmatists (and historians) among us must have secretly known it was too tall an order. How many times have we written the storyline that supposedly ends with the Lakers turning a corner, only to watch it disintegrate in a crushing away loss? We only have to go back one series to witness this exact same scenario playing out, so it’s not surprising to see the same thing happening again. Doesn’t make it suck any less, though.

It was just a struggle all night for the team. In the first half, they were getting after it, but they just weren’t hitting their shots. Denver played like a proper home team and made a more concerted effort to take it to the rim and control the game that way. It also helped the Nuggets that they hit a fair few shots in this game, something they were completely unable to do in game 3. Melo had a bad game, suffering through some ailment or other, but the rest of the team showed up and played to its full potential. Billups was a true floor general; Martin and Nene attacked the glass with force; and JR Smith finally emerged from his hibernation to score 24 points and energize his team. It was the kind of performance I expected to see from them in game 3, when I was quasi-predicting a Denver win. It came one game late but was still plenty powerful.

It wouldn’t be particularly disheartening if we seemed capable of getting this kind of a result on our own home floor, but we have given no indication of being able to take a game over even at Staples. If there was ever a time for it, it was now, as the team could use it to galvanize itself and hopefully propel themselves forward just enough to take the series, even if it requires seven games (and really, who isn’t counting on that anyway?). We all just have to come to grips with the fact that there is no corner to be turned, no lesson to be learned, and that this Lakers team is who it is at this point. It hurts to admit it, but it’s true that our team has a weak, or at the very least variable, mental fortitude that is entirely undependable and liable to completely disappear on any given night. They can dig deep for a win some days, but on others it is outside the realm of possibility. Tonight was one of those nights, so we lost, and by a lot. I just keep repeating the mantra other Laker fans have espoused: you don’t necessarily have to be good to win it all, just good enough. In the end, we may still be good enough. But only just.

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Off to a Better Start

Posted by hiphopmama on May 20, 2009

Play of the game

 

Play of the game

 

Denver 103, LA Lakers 105
     Lakers lead series 1-0

Sorry for the delay. This write-up was preempted by my attendance of the No Doubt concert, which was great, better even than this gripping game. I was lucky enough to get updates throughout (thanks, Diana), so my friends and I were biting our nails as it went down to the wire, and we let out a big “Lakers!” cheer when the final score came through. Poor Paramore probably thought it was for them. Oh well.

The best word I can think of to describe this game is EVEN. These are two quite evenly-matched teams, at least when the Lakers are somewhat off their game as they have been, and it was reflected in the tight scoreline in the final three quarters. It reminded me of a heavyweight boxing match, with each team punching, then counter-punching, then responding with a slightly reworked strategy. The Lakers came out flat, allowing the Nuggets to build as much as a 13-point lead in the first quarter, but after their second quarter spurt it was close the rest of the way. Around the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Denver had a seven point lead, but other than that it was always around a one to four point margin. 

And then we closed on them. Our front line had been battered and bruised by the shorter and, frankly, lesser pairing of Nene and Kenyon Martin, but Pau kept on battling and eventually got something going by crashing the glass, specifically on the offensive end. More importantly, though, Kobe took over. He scored 18 points in the fourth, with nine straight free throws, including four to ice the game. He got a big assist from Ariza, who made two key plays in our come-from-behind effort. The first was a three-pointer when we were down 94-89 with 4:16 remaining, at a key moment when you felt we could either make or break our comeback. A Kobe jumper and a Fisher three put us in front 97-96 with 2:30 on the clock. Ariza’s other game-saving play was his steal of Denver’s inbounds pass after two Kobe free throws put us up 101-99 with 30 seconds remaining. Kobe was guarding Melo, but Ariza came out of nowhere and closed on the ball like a cornerback reading a quarterback’s eyes, just in time to snatch the ball off Anthony’s back shoulder and race down court. Anthony Carter’s pass, presumably obstructed by Lamar Odom’s lank, had just enough loft on it to give Ariza that extra split second, and that was all he needed. Two more Kobe free throws later, and it was a done deal. 

Actually, Chauncey Billups did his best in the midst of all that to steal the game back, hitting two ridiculous, highly contested three-pointers, but it wasn’t quite enough for the Nuggets, who had to settle for second-best on a night when they were the better team for most of the game. 

I can’t yet decide on an interpretation of this one. There are two non-mutually exclusive ways to go. The first is this: Championship clubs close games. It doesn’t matter how you play the first 47 minutes, only who is ahead when 48 are completed. In the end, the “better” team doesn’t always win, just the team that performs better when it matters most. The Lakers have the game’s best closer and arguably its best coach, along with last year’s playoff experience, so they have the natural advantage when it comes to late-game situations. This win is just a sign that we have the right ingredients to get the job done even when we’re not playing our best. The other interpretation is slightly less favorable: The Lakers are scraping by and will soon meet up with a team or a situation that with catch them out. Sure, they escaped by the skin of their teeth in this one, but one of these days they won’t be so lucky. They continue to underperform, even in this most crucial of games, and if they can’t get their act together they will soon be shown the exit so they can retreat to their Hollywood homes and watch the Finals from comfier confines.

I sit somewhere in between these two extremes. Yes, they were at a notch below their best, but, aside from the opening six minutes or so, they were not exhibiting the lack of effort that characterized those two catastrophic losses in Houston. They weren’t phoning it in, they were just being matched, move for move, by a very good team that has found its groove. They slugged it out, with some brave performances thrown in there (Kobe’s defending, Ariza’s hanging in there). Carmelo had an exceptional game, one which I doubt he can repeat too many times in this series, and our bigs were outworked by a pluckier twosome, all of which helped account for the close nature of the game. The Lakers have the ability to play much better than this, while the Nuggets have much more limited room for improvement. J.R. Smith was far from his best, and Chris Andersen will play a much bigger role in front of the home fans, but I doubt they can defend much better than they did in game one and of the starters, only Billups has the potential to show much more than he did last time out. And when all the chips were on the table, the Lakers were the ones who found a way to win, which is what it all comes down to. That doesn’t mean that they won’t make it interesting, but if they can continue to perform with the kind of heart we saw over the last three quarters of this one, they should still make it through. So we can start this whole process over again with Cleveland. Or Orlando, apparently.

Game recap:

Highlights:

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Madrid Gains More Ground

Posted by hiphopmama on February 22, 2009

barca-espanyol

Barcelona 1-2 Espanyol

  • 0-1 De La Peña, 50′
  • 0-2 De La Peña, 54′
  • 1-2 Toure, 62′

madrid-betis

    Real Madrid 6-1 Real Betis

    • 1-0 Higuain, 7′
    • 2-0 Huntelaar, 15′
    • 3-0 Huntelaar, 24′
    • 3-1 Oliveira, 30′
    • 4-1 Raul, 36′
    • 5-1 Raul, 42′
    • 6-1 Sergio Ramos, 45′

    In a seemingly improbable turn of events, Barcelona suffered just their second loss of the season to bottom-of-the-table Espanyol in the Catalan derby, while Madrid rolled to a 6-1 victory by halftime against Betis at the Bernabeu. The result was a three-point swing and a reduction of the point gap at the top to just seven. It seems like just yesterday the lead was double digits and comfortably in Barcelona’s palms. Oh wait, that was yesterday…

    Derby games are always going to have plenty of intensity, but Barça had a particularly tough time of it against Espanyol, even at the Camp Nou. Things started promisingly enough for the blaugrana, with Barcelona controlling possession and creating a number of good chances, a couple of which were just begging to be finished off. But Espanyol were able to hang on and make to halftime with the score level.

    The first half started all wrong for Barça and continued that way, as Keita picked up a straight red card on an iffy decision by the referee. It was clearly a reckless challenge, most likely a yellow, but the red seemed a little harsh. It wasn’t two-footed and he didn’t come in exceptionally late, either. From that moment on – and well before it, really – it was a slugfest. “Chippy” doesn’t even hint at the back-and-forth that went on. For the most part it was calmly managed by the ref, but you could argue that he failed to get it fully under control fast enough. And I’m sure the Barcelona fans would say he made a number of questionable calls that went against the home side. Whatever the case, going down a man was a real blow to Barça, who had mostly controlled the game up to that point. With the man advantage, Betis finally got their act together and started counterattacking with conviction. On 50 minutes, Nene secured the ball, kept it away from two defenders, and found De La Peña with a cross, and the little Buddha headed it home past a scurrying Valdes. Valdes was personally responsible for the second goal, which happened when he horribly flubbed a pass to Pique, sending it directly to De La Peña instead. As expected, DLP immediately put it away, chipping it over Valdes who was caught (or rather, caught himself) in no-man’s land. 

    Yaya pulled one back for Barça on a gorgeous one-touch strike in the 62nd, and they looked likely to level the match multiple times after that. But that second goal just never materialized, and they lost their first match since the season opener against Numancia, leaving the door open for Real Madrid to storm through in their match.

    That game was just an old-fashioned romp over an inferior opponent. It definitely helped that Betis were spent after putting everything into their draw with Barcelona the previous week, but Real was always going to win this one. Once again the defense was solid – if not as iron-clad as in games past, conceding a goal – and the offense roamed freely. When you put in six goals in the first half, you know you have it working, and the rest of the match was just about saving face for Betis. Higuain opened the scoring after Raul won a tough header and sent it in Gonzalo’s direction. All that was left was for Higuain to slyly round the keeper and slot it home. Raul got the brace for a second straight game, and Huntelaar scored two as well, finally getting his first since signing with the club. Ramos closed out the half with a diving header off Heinze’s free kick to make it 6-1. At one point, Oliveira closed the gap to 3-1 when the Madrid defense left him in way too much space just outside the box and he burned them on a rocket from distance. He had a chance to make it 3-2 a while later when Casillas went all Valdes on us and sent a perfectly weighted pass in the Brazilian’s direction. Oliveiras wasn’t able to put his shot on target, though, and he ended up hitting the post for Betis’ last real goal-scoring opportunity. 

    For as divergent as their destinies seemed during the first half of the season, Real Madrid and Barcelona’s fates seem inextricably linked once again. It’s no surprise that Real have the only team capable of competing in the long-term with Barcelona. What is surprising is how quickly they have transformed themselves into real contenders, with plenty of help from a Barcelona team that looks, dare I say it, human. As a Lakers fan, I know how inevitable it is that great teams will go through slumps at some point during a long season, and one draw and one loss hardly qualify as panic-worthy results, but it was entirely predictable that they would have to come back down to earth at some point. The key will be how well and how quickly they can rebound from their mini-slide, and how long Madrid can continue their blazing run of form. Because when all is said and done, the title is Barça’s to lose, and even if Real play perfectly the rest of the way, they need Barcelona to drop points to have a chance. I have a hard time believing that Pep Guardiola’s team, as well coached and disciplined as they have been this season, will stumble enough to gift the title to its main rival. It at least makes for interesting viewing, since the leaders must think about the reigning champions nipping at their heels. Unlike Serie A and the Premier League, both of which look as good as decided (although good luck to Liverpool, just in case), La Liga could have a feisty finish on its hands. I sure hope so.

    Real Madrid-Real Betis highlights, to some lovely musical accompaniment:

    Barcelona-Espanyol highlights:

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