All Balls Don’t Bounce

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

Posts Tagged ‘phil jackson’

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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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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We Have A Series

Posted by hiphopmama on June 9, 2009

Damn

Damn

LA Lakers 104, Orlando 108
     Lakers lead series 2-1

That was some shooting performance. The Magic just set an NBA Finals record for field goal percentage at 62.5%. And they won by four points. AND they were a Kobe Bryant brain fart away from facing another overtime and having to relive game 2 all over again. They earned this win, hands down, but I’m just saying. Good luck replicating that performance in game 4.

If there was one game the Magic were going to win, it was this one, and they made good. All those shots they were missing in the first two games were falling tonight, and then some. They were shooting 75% at halftime – good lord – yet they trailed most of the half until a late run put them up by a handful. Kobe put on a clinic in the first quarter and got the guys going enough to keep us close despite the lights out job the Magic put on us, but he cooled the fuck off after that and had trouble finding the basket in the second half. And then our precious closer did something we haven’t seen in over a decade – he failed to deliver in the clutch. After his amazing start, he seemed to force things a bit looking to continue his hot streak, but for once this season he didn’t have the recognition of what the defense was giving him (or not) to find the open man. Whereas in those last two games against the Nuggets he read the defense and conducted the game like a maestro, pulling all the right strings, tonight he was so determined to do it all on his own that the game got away from him and he worked himself out of his great rhythm. Add to that the fact that he started looking tired out there (at least according to Phil) and you have somewhat of an explanation for his five missed free throws and late game turnover when he had the chance to tie the game. You can take absolutely nothing from it – it was the one time out of a hundred when he didn’t come through – but his own stubbornness definitely played a role.

It was a tough loss, to be sure, but I’m happy for the Magic as an organization that they finally got a Finals victory. I remember pulling like hell for Orlando in that series against the Rockets so many years ago. I was in love with Penny Hardaway and Shaq could actually move in those days, and they were a fun team to watch. They were definitely my team during those two off years for MJ (with the Lakers doing nothing), and I was so hyped when they looked like they were going to take game one. And then Nick Anderson missed those four free throws. It hurt my soul, even more so when they went on to get swept. So I’m glad that the Orlando fans finally got to witness a win on this biggest of stages. I just hope they don’t get another one, at least not this year.

Tonight was frustrating for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest was the fact that we didn’t really play poorly. We shot over 50%, only turned it over 13 times, and had five guys in double figures. Heck, our defense wasn’t even half bad. It wasn’t more than half good, but it was at least an effort, which we haven’t always seen from this team. The Magic were just hitting everything in sight, and out of it for that matter. They had FIVE GUYS over 18 points, including Rafer Alston with 20. Yuck. The good news was that we still had a chance to take this one at the end, and since you figure another 62% night is not forthcoming, we still look to be on track in this one. I don’t want anyone to get the impression I’m taking anything away from the Magic win tonight. This is one of the most resilient teams I have ever seen and I admire their heart at sticking with it and never giving up. And you can tell they really believe this series is still theirs to win, which comes down to great coaching. Stan Van Gundy always has his team ready and gunning at their opponents, which is more than you can always say from our sometimes underachieving bunch. Despite all of that, I have a hard time imagining them getting another performance like that this series, and there are many reasons why. For one, Kobe will not have another game where he reads things so poorly. If history has taught us anything it’s that he learns from his mistakes, and I fully expect him to get it this time as well. Speaking of adjustments, the all-time great we have calling plays on the bench is not likely to get out-coached or out-maneuvered, even by one as great at SVG. He will figure out the right adjustments and make them. And finaly, 62.5%?? That is a once in a lifetime shooting night, and with just two more of those shots clanking, we have a tie game and possibly a different outcome. I like our odds when you take all that into account.

Recap:

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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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That’s How It’s Done

Posted by hiphopmama on May 27, 2009

What can Brown do for you?

What can Brown do for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recap (first half only):

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

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A Champion Caliber Win

Posted by hiphopmama on May 8, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights:

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

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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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Just Barely

Posted by hiphopmama on April 21, 2009

Jazz Lakers

"Oh, were we supposed to keep playing? Even in the second half??"

Utah 109, LA Lakers 119
     Lakers lead series 2-0

What’s new? We can’t keep quick guards out of the lane and we can’t hold a lead. Oh, and we rarely lose. I guess I’ll take those first two as long as they come with the third. We came out strong again tonight, building up another big lead in the first half and squandering it due to sloppy play in the third quarter. We had a strong finish to the third to set us up for the fourth quarter up double-figures, but that disintegrated after a while too and we found ourselves up just three points with three minutes remaining. An Odom lay-up and Kobe pull-up put it into the cooler, if not the refrigerator, but Ariza’s three with 33 seconds to go put the game on ice and shipped it back to Utah for game 3.

What was so disappointing here was that the boneheadedness was distributed throughout the team so evenly, even creeping into the play of bona fide clutch-masters like Kobe. Up just 5 points with 1:42 to play, Kobe throws a ridiculous full-court pass off a steal that gets intercepted but thankfully only leads to a Utah shot clock violation. Pau missed a pair of free throws late that would have left the ending much less in doubt. The whole team played lackadaisical basketball throughout the third and fourth quarters, seemingly drinking the Kool-Aid and believing their own hype. Deron Williams was a fucking beast again, and he refused to let his team go quietly into the night, firing away for 35 points and 6 three-pointers. His 9 assists outweighed his 7 turnovers, but the TOs hurt him in the end as they squashed any chance of a Utah comeback. 

This is the kind of game we’ve seen the Lakers play all year, and we attribute it to regular season malaise. “They’re just too good for the competition,” we say. “Wait for the postseason. They’ll get it together then, when there’s something to play for.” To which I say: bull…shit. There is no proverbial switch. You build and lose momentum incrementally, and you cannot simply turn it around because you feel like it. That means that you MUST play the entire game like every possession – both offensive and defensive – is crucial. No more of this taking quarters off business, especially the third. It’s inexcusable. We’re not THAT good, for pete’s sake. No one is.

Still, at the end of the day, we head back to Utah up two games to none and looking, realistically, for a split in the two games in Salt Lake City. We don’t have the most pristine record facing the Jazz away, so I don’t foresee a sweep, but one win out of two seems like a reasonable prediction. Then, if we don’t make too big a mess of it, we should be poised to close things out on our own home court in five games to give us ample rest time before the second round. Looking too far ahead, you say? Nah, never that. Just reading the writing on the wall, as even Jerry Sloan seems to have done. We’re still the best team in basketball, albeit by a slim margin (kudos to Mike Brown and Cleveland), but we’re going to have to play like it to claim that title officially, and tonight was not the best indication of our potential. Phil should yell/scream/meditate/WHATEVER some sense into them after that game and remind them that the better teams WILL make them pay for those kinds of lapses. Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me twice……can’t- can’t get fooled again.

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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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