All Balls Don’t Bounce

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

Posts Tagged ‘pau gasol’

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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Is It Thursday Yet?

Posted by hiphopmama on June 2, 2009

pau howard
How am I supposed to survive a week with no Lakers basketball? I guess I’ll find out soon because, win or lose, the season will be over shortly and I’ll be forced to find another form of subsistence with both the NBA and European soccer leagues entering their off-seasons. For now, luckily, we have at least four more games to look forward to, and the most important of the season at that. 

We now know that the Finals match-up will be between the Lakers and Magic, who moved on at the expense of the Chosen One’s Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Poor Nike won’t get quite the bang for their buck with those cute puppet commercials without the vaunted Kobe-LeBron match-up, but the Magic weren’t having it and sent them packing. ‘Bron Bron, in all his wondrous glory, saw fit to ditch his opponents and teammates after losing game 6, skipping out on all the postgame festivities, including the shaking of hands with the Magic as well as all press conferences. But, you know, he’s a “competitor” so he doesn’t need to engage in all of that. As he said days later with his Yankees cap firmly planted on his bulbous head. Don’t get me wrong, my favorite player is quite the asshole himself and probably gets more ill will from various corners than any other NBA superstar. But he never bailed on his teammates that way, no matter how fierce the competition or heartbreaking the loss. I guess James is just bigger than the team, which is a pretty good indication that he both could and should consider making his exit after next season. Sucks for the city of Cleveland, but bon voyage to the King. Go live it up in New York with Nate Robinson and Quentin Richardson and whatever coach they have brought in on that carousel. Maybe the spotlight will suit him better than the W’s.

On to the actual Finals, I have to say I’m more worried about the Magic than I would have been about the Cavs. Yes, any team with LeBron James is always a threat, but there was very little around him to threaten us. The Magic, on the other hand, have a stacked line-up of perimeter threats, all surrounding an incredible anchor in Dwight Howard. As they showed against the Cavs, they are formidable around that three-point line all the way down that roster. Even recent addition Rafer Alston can knock them down on occasion, but the biggest dangers are Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and sixth man Mickael Pietrus, all of whom use their size and speed advantage on the perimeter to free themselves up for the trey. Needless to say, the ability to pound the ball down low with Howard helps open things up exponentially as the game goes on, which, as Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw noted, accounts for their incredible late-game surges to make up early deficits. As their opponent’s interior defense wears down and perimeter defenders have to sag, it leaves their long-distance shooters the extra room they need to fire one up. 

The bad news for us? We don’t defend the three-point line particularly well and have been burned by it on numerous occasions. The good news? It’s almost the entirety of their game, as they both live and die by it, and you all know what they say about teams who depend on the jump shot. 

The best, admittedly pro-Lakers, tactical breakdown you will find is over at Forum Blue & Gold, where they assert that the mismatches all line up in our favor. The one match-up that I think is neglected in this analysis is Pau Gasol on Rashard Lewis, which presents some interesting issues to say the least. While Pau is certainly long enough to contend with Lewis, the question remains as to whether he is quick enough to keep up with him on the outside. I expect Orlando to work that match-up to the fullest to look for any chinks in our defensive armor. Bynum will be expected to mark Howard, which I believe he can do with some level of success for as long as he can stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. Since I don’t expect him to be able to do either of those things for very long, I figure we’ll see Pau at the five quite a bit and Odom on Lewis. That’s a much better match-up for us, although Pau gives up a lot in terms of bulk on Howard. That said, I don’t think anyone will be able to do much of anything about Howard on the block, so I’d rather lock up their shooters and let Superman go for 40 than worry too much about the front-court match-up.

On the offensive side of the ball, I like what I see. Who in that starting line-up guards Kobe? Courtney Lee? I don’t think so. Rashard Lewis? Not nearly quick enough. Mickael Pietrus is the one player who can do a serviceable job – did you see him on LeBron against Cleveland? – but he doesn’t even start and no one really stops Kobe anyway. Neither Turkoglu nor Lewis have the length to deter Gasol, though Howard will be a more formidable opponent. Still, Pau’s speed in running the floor may help him in terms of both fast break points and post positioning. 

What it comes down to, as always, is our ability and desire to play our game. If we play to our full potential, at anything close to the level we showed in game 6 against the Nuggets, the series is ours to win. Much as I have campaigned for Stan Van Gundy as an elite coach in the league, we still are the better coached team with superior talent and versatility through our whole line-up. We have home court advantage, and now that we are at the final stage, you would think motivation wouldn’t be a problem. If we can just put all the pieces together, we will have our fates in our own hands. If, however, we play the kind of lackluster defense and tepid offense that saw us need seven games to beat Houston, this will be a very long series indeed. I don’t think it will be a short series in any case, but I see it going our way with Pau proving his worth and finally shedding that “soft” tag for good. Official prediction: Lakers in 6.

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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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Home Court Advantage, Part Deux

Posted by hiphopmama on May 23, 2009

Threeeeee!!!

Threeeeee!!!

LA Lakers 103, Denver 97
     Lakers lead series 2-1

Are you kidding me? Six points?? Someone won a game in this series by more than one possession? Don’t be fooled, though – this one was just as close as the others and could easily have gone either way.  The difference tonight was as expected, as it came down to Kobe vs. Melo. Tonight, for the first time in the series, Kobe won by a landslide.

Carmelo came out on fire again, scoring 14 in the first quarter and helping Denver get off to a quick start, but foul trouble kept him on the bench and disrupted his rhythm enough to throw him off after that. He only had three points and no field goals in the second half, partly because of improved defense by the Lakers. They were quicker to throw an extra defender or two at him when he drove to the basket, cutting him off and forcing decisions from him. And, to be honest, we were helped out by the Nuggets’ failure to hit their shots tonight, which helped us hang around even when we weren’t playing particularly well. The lead was rarely, if ever, as high as 10, and for most of the night it hovered between four and eight. The Lakers countered each Denver run effectively, keeping the home crowd from really getting involved and allowing them to stay close enough to swoop in and steal it at the end.

And we did steal this one, make no mistake. It wasn’t as criminal a theft as game 1, when we were vastly outplayed for three quarters, but it was definitely Denver’s game to win, especially in their own building. Kobe just wasn’t having it. He put up 41 points, bringing his three-game tally to 113 and willing us to a 2-1 series lead. Props to Pau Gasol, who, despite looking tired and decrepit at times, dug deep enough to carry us for a while in the fourth quarter. He had a couple tough turn-arounds while we were in the midst of five or six consecutive stops, allowing us to pull even with the Nuggets and set the stage for another Kobe clinic in the final minutes. Winded and exhausted, he still had the wherewithal at 93-95 to pull up and drain a three-pointer while heavily guarded to give us the lead with 38 seconds left. It was a truly ridiculous shot. Not quite as dramatic as Lebron’s but equally effective and more tightly contested. He brought the ball up in a strange arc to avoid the swiping hands of JR Smith, hung in the air a split second longer than usual, pumped his legs once, and fired it up to give the Lakers a lead they would not relinquish. 

The rest of the game was a replay of game 1 for Denver, only sadder. After K-Mart missed a lay-up and Kobe converted on one of two free throws, the Nuggets once again threw the ball away on the inbounds, once again as a result of a Trevor Ariza steal. Perhaps in an attempt to learn from his game 1 mistake, Karl used a bigger man to inbound the ball. Unfortunately, the man he chose was Kenyon Martin, a man certainly not known for his passing ability. Odom’s length forced him to lob it to a streak Carmelo, but Melo appeared to cut his run off a bit and Ariza streaked in, this time on his outside shoulder, and snatched the ball away. Again. As he took off for the other end, Anthony grabbed him to pick up his sixth foul and sentence himself to the bench for the final seconds. 

Ariza made both free throws, Kobe made four more, and that was that. Not even Chauncey Billups could come up with any heroics to save his team tonight, as his two free throws were all Denver could muster after the Ariza steal. Carmelo was clearly devastated on the sideline, watching in resigned agony as his team waded through those horrible final seconds, and even I felt bad for him given how incredibly he’s played in this series. Not that bad, though, but a little, I suppose.

As with any other Lakers game, there is no real take-home lesson here. A win like this for any other team would probably mean a turning point and an opportunity to get their minds right and blaze through the rest of the series. This Lakers team? Not so fast. The optimist in me wants to say they will put the clamps down and thoroughly destroy a demoralized Nuggets team in game four, especially now that they have adjusted somewhat to the altitude. The realist in me knows better. Game four will more than likely be exactly like the first three – punches and counterpunches in the first half, then a dogfight to the finish line. In my mind, the odds of us prevailing in close games are about two in three, which is borne out by the series thus far, so Denver may have as much as one more miracle win in them. That won’t be enough, though, and I still see this one going no further than six games. We’ll pretend that was the realist and not the optimist talking.

Recap:

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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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What’s Done Is Done

Posted by hiphopmama on May 17, 2009

Job well done. Or maybe just DONE.

Job well done. Or maybe just DONE.

Houston 70, LA Lakers 89
     Lakers win series 4-3 

I can only hope that’s true. What’s done is done. Because if it is, then we have a good chance at knocking off Denver in five or six. What’s done is done. If it’s not, then we’re stuck alternating good and bad performances – no, make that stupendous and horrendous performances – at home and away, and we’re more than likely going to need the full seven again. What’s done is done. Or so I pray.

This game seven at home in Staples Center went entirely according to plan and much like all the other games we won. We jumped on them early and held onto the lead for the remainder of the game. The few twists, however, were notable and deserve some explication. For one, did you see that final score? We didn’t even make it to 90 points, yet we still won. Why? Because we played defense. That’s “defense,” with a “D.” I know, as Lakers fans, many of us are unfamiliar with the concept, but it’s a complicated system in which you position your body in such a way as to prevent the other team from scoring. Believe it or not, many, many championships have been won in this fashion. If we are somehow able to win one this year, it will be because we catch up with the rest of the world on this concept.

But the important thing today was that we cared enough to play some D, and we were able to keep up the defensive intensity the whole way through. We held the Rockets to an absurdly low 70 points and under 37% shooting while we shot 47% and out-rebounded them by 22 (55-33). 

The other crucial difference in this game was the continuous dominance we displayed. Houston took almost half a quarter to get its first points on the board, and they didn’t get their first field goal until the 4:43 mark of the first. All the things we were unable to do in games four and six came easily in front of the home fans. Most importantly, Pau and Bynum locked down Scola and finally made the Rockets pay for the yards of height differential between our front lines. I called out Pau in my last post – unfairly, I’ve been told – but he came through for the team today. He blazed the trail that the rest of the team followed with his 21 points and 18 rebounds, which allowed Kobe to slide by with a 14-point performance in 33 minutes. Pau once again led the team with his 41 minutes on the floor. 

Some of the old swagger was back for Pau in this one, which was more than a little comforting. He had the full complement of skills working for him, from the hook in the lane to the face-up options to the pull-up from the elbow. More tellingly, he was fierce on the boards as well, which is always a sign as to how he’s feeling on a given day. His three blocks were yet another indication of his energy level in this game seven, especially the early one he got on a Scola jumper that sparked a Lakers fast break and helped set the tone.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to feel in the wake of this series, or even this game. I’m happy we won, sure, but there are more questions than answers as we make our way to the Western Conference Finals. Taking the short view, we played with the requisite playoff intensity in this game, and our big men lived up to their seven-foot stature. Auspiciously, Andrew Bynum worked himself into a nice aggressive groove in game seven, and hopefully he’ll be able to carry forward the positive momentum into the next series. Being more pragmatic, however, leads to a host of problems that I’d rather not deal with. Which team is going to show up on a given night? Why is effort even an issue in the playoffs for a team challenging for a title? What exactly can we expect from our bench? And what the fuck happened in games four and six? I don’t have any answers, other than that I believe there aren’t answers to many of these. The Lakers simply are who they are, which is an inconsistent, mentally ambivalent team with little to no killer instinct. The talent level of the team means that they may still have enough to win it all, even with such a weak constitution clearly in evidence, but they are certain to keep their fans on the edge of their seats and reaching for the blood pressure medication as they make their way toward the ultimate goal.

Game recap:

Kobe and Pau postgame:

And Phil:

No one will ever care if the Lakers go on to win it, but I have to agree with Bill Plaschke in his assessment of Phil’s hands-off approach being ill-suited to our young team. I’m curious to hear my two readers’ thoughts about the issue, because, much as I think PJ believes too much of his own hype, I’m usually loath to criticize his handling of the team. But he’s had on the kid gloves for a long time, much more than I’ve ever seen from him before, and he’s been protecting his players like a mother bird sheltering her babies under her wing. That’s not an image I usually associate with Phil Jackson, which indicates to me that he’s somewhat out of his element here and perhaps grasping for a working strategy for the group of players he has. And kudos to him for being willing and able to adjust his tactics midstream, but I feel like he’s not always adjusting the right ones. Call a friggin’ timeout now and then to calm the young guys down, but don’t shield them from all criticism. That does nothing but reinforce this team’s already overlarge ego and further the players’ belief that they’re impervious to everything, even when they’re in the thick of a winner-takes-all game seven. At least that’s my take on the matter. But maybe my zen is off. In either case, what’s done is done. I hope.

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