All Balls Don’t Bounce

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

Posts Tagged ‘scores’

Hells Yeah!

Posted by hiphopmama on March 12, 2009

Road warriors

Road warriors

 

LA Lakers 102, San Antonio 95

(52-13)

That was some game, eh? Not that we ever expect anything less against the Spurs, but this one was particularly fun, admittedly because we won, unlike the last time we visited them. It was the Lakers’ second game in two nights, and also the second consecutive game in which we closed well. This time, though, the story line was a little different.

Instead of falling behind and having to dig ourselves out of a deficit, we absolutely jumped on the Spurs from the opening tip and carried an 18 point lead into the second quarter. Everything was working, and the Spurs looked old and sluggish. They put on a couple little runs to cut it to 15 at halftime, and then Popovich must’ve torn ’em all a new one, because they came out looking like a different team after that. They surged out on us in the third, led by Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, plus some clutch shooting from Michael Finley, who appeared not to miss damn near all game. As usual, we were lax in defending the three point line, and they burned us for it, making 11-of-17 shots from distance in the game. 

The Spurs’ comeback was a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kinda deal. They would cut into the lead, then go cold, then watch as we extended it back to double figures. That script played out a few times, from the San Antonio run to start the fourth quarter, through our surge in response to restore the lead to 10, all the way to the last two and a half minute mark, when Tony Parker pulled up and nailed a three to cut the lead to two. With the lead down to a single bucket and the clock winding down, who else did you really expect to come to the rescue? Kobe waited around on the offense for a while before just pulling up for a long three from the left wing, making Spurs rookie George Hill look foolish for ever thinking he could deter him. That shot was a back-breaker, and the Spurs never recovered. Duncan scored a deuce on the next possession, but Pau followed it with an easy shot earned from the high double-team Kobe got. On their next possession, the Spurs looked likely to get another easy score when Farmar got picked off on a screen, but – real shocker here – our defensive rotation worked to perfection, as Duncan fielded the pass and turned to find Odom in his lap. Timmy wanted the foul, but the refs called a jump ball instead, which LO won and which sent us on our way. They had a few more chances, but they were all well defended, and I found myself swelling with pride as the defense suffocated all the shots San Antonio wanted. Why we can’t do that more than once or twice a game is beyond me, but at least the D was there when we needed it. Sasha’s two free throws closed it out and we got another win in the second game of a back-to-back.

I must admit that I’m thoroughly amazed at how we’ve turned it around in these last two games after some shoddy play of late, particularly the Portland game. It took us a while to get going against Houston, but once we did we never looked back, and that momentum carried over into this crucial game against the Spurs. Doug Collins was dead on when he noted that the Spurs are not a good come-from-behind team because of their methodical (plodding?) offense, and an 18 point first quarter deficit proved to be too much to overcome. Wait a second – is that the second time in two nights that I’ve praised an announcer? Something must be seriously wrong with me…

Game recap:

Highlights:

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<3

Posted by hiphopmama on March 11, 2009

Lakers Rockets

LA Lakers 102, Houston 96

(51-13)

That’s what we showed tonight: heart. And composure. And persistence. And even a little bit of that swagger that eluded us last year against Boston. We came out decent enough and ended up playing the first quarter even, but the Rockets jumped on us in the second and took an 11 point lead and all the momentum into halftime. I don’t know what Phil told them at halftime, but it worked, because the Lakers rediscovered their defense and held Houston to 19 points in the third quarter and slowly but surely chipped away at the lead. Instead of wilting in the face of pressure, they just kept at it, knowing that if it was close down the stretch, only one team had the necessary tools to close the deal.

We reclaimed the lead on a Vujacic jumper at the 9-minute mark of the fourth quarter and never looked back. It was still tight the rest of the way, with the Rockets hanging around and occasionally tying it up, but they never had quite enough to take it from us. Or more accurately, we never let them. We really won this one in the second half with our defense. We suffocated Yao Ming on the block, making him look like a total butterfingers out there, and they were unable to punish our hanging off the weak side by knocking down outside shots. One V. Wafer had another good game against us, as did Aaron Brooks, but Houston had no one to go to in those close late-game possessions, while we rode comfortably on Kobe’s back. He had only 6 points in the first half, but his 21 in the second – including 18 in the fourth quarter – buoyed us to the victory. He did it in typically spectacular fashion, with the extra twist being his jawing session with Ron Artest. It started when the two got tangled up halfway through the fourth, Kobe taking exception to Artest’s physical play and responding in kind. From then on, they never stopped the back-and-forth, all the way through the requisite free throws and final buzzer. Artest is a good defender, but he didn’t do much to stop Kobe tonight, as Kobe scored on pull-up jumpers and slashes to the basket, as well as from the line to close it out. It was exactly as Clyde Drexler said – if it’s close in the final minutes, it’s advantages Lakers simply because of the existence of number 24.

I rarely do this, so let’s make it count: the Houston announcers were really good in this one. Clyde Drexler and the other dude were completely painless during the whole game, which is rare indeed for announcers of teams taking on the Lakers. Kudos to them. 

Highlights:

Game recap:

This was a much needed win after some extremely shaky play from us, especially going into the game tomorrow night against San Antonio. As I watched the game slip away from us in the second quarter, I started questioning the team, wondering if this would be the point in the season when it all slipped away. But then they found their resolve, played some D, and put the Rockets in their place, which is the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture. That’s pretty good considering they are without T-Mac, but still nowhere near challenging us in crunch time. 

One final shout-out: to Josh Powell for his 17 points and 9 boards in his cameo as starting power forward in Lamar’s absence. That was a serious contribution from a player who has earned his minutes in our crowded rotation. That face-up jumper is deadly and could be real helpful down the line. Oh, and his slam dunk on Yao was the play of the night.

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Champions League, Part Deux

Posted by hiphopmama on March 11, 2009

manyoo-inter

Manchester United 2-0 Inter (Agg: 2-0)

  • 1-0 Vidic, 4′
  • 2-0 Ronaldo,  49′

almunia

Roma 1-0 Arsenal, Shoot-out 6-7 (Agg: 1-1)

  • 1-0 Juan, 9′

England has the strongest league in the world. Hands down. I was hesitant to admit it for a while, especially because La Liga is my favorite to watch. But after watching Champions League action in conjunction with the individual leagues, it is essentially impossible to argue otherwise. In the two preceding years, three of the final four teams were from England (Man Utd, Chelsea, and Liverpool in both cases), and last year was an all-England final. Now, as we head into the quarterfinals, all four English teams have advanced, at the expense of Italy’s three representatives in the round of 16. Spain still has two teams alive in the competition, but only one of them – Barcelona – stands any real chance of making it all the way.

Defending champs Manchester Utd took out Italy’s last great hope and their Special coach (wonder if he knows what the connotations of that term are). While I had finally settled on Inter as the lesser of these two evils, I was not at all unhappy to see Mourinho get humbled like that. I wish it could have been at the hands of someone other than Fergie and ManYoo, but watching Inter bomb out of the Champions League with the coach they brought in specifically to get them better results in Europe was still sweet. Man Utd opened each half with a goal, which was just enough to finish off Inter. Sir Alex’s boys weren’t particularly impressive today, but they did what they had to do to beat Special Sauce and Co. Both goals came off beautifully delivered passes, the first a corner taken by Giggs and the second a chipped pass from Rooney. Ibrahimovic finally decided to show up and made some key contributions, but neither he nor Adriano could break all the way through the ManYoo defense. And the quintuple is still alive.

In the final England-Italy match-up, Arsenal carried a 1-0 home victory into Rome but watched that margin disappear on an early goal by Juan, who scored the game’s only goal in his brief return from injury Not long after leveling for Roma, he had to leave with a re-aggravated thigh injury, further depleting the Roman squad. Arsenal seemed the likelier of the two sides to score for most of the game, but they never found their way onto the scoreboard. The best chance they had came when Bendtner deflected the ball to start a lightning quick counterattack. Eboue dribbled up the right side and should have easily been able to pick out Bendtner in the middle for a straightforward tap home, but his disappointing season continued with a horrible ball that went long and ruined any chance Arsenal had of scoring for the moment. In the end it went to penalties, and Arsenal started poorly, with Eduardo’s weak shot blocked by Doni. Vucinic helped the Gunners even it up by getting a little too cute and sending one straight at Almunia with not much pace. Finally, after eight takes from either side, Tonetto stepped up and skied it over the bar, ending Roma’s hopes of any silverware this year.

We now have to wait till the 20th to find out the match-ups for the quarterfinals, which will be drawn from the following teams:

  • Bayern Munich
  • Villarreal
  • Chelsea
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester United
  • Arsenal
  • Barcelona
  • Porto

The round of 16 draw was a tad suspicious, with the Italian teams all matched up with English opposition, so the conspiracy theorists among us would probably say the broadcasters got their wish with all four English teams through. Whatever the case, I hope we get a more equitable shakedown for the quarters, preferably keeping Arsenal and Chelsea on opposite sides, since those are the last of my teams standing. Realistically, though, no one is touching either Man Utd or Barcelona, and barring an unfortunate draw, they should be the favorites to make the finals. Everyone else is a long shot at this point.

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Finally A Blowout

Posted by hiphopmama on March 6, 2009

DJ!

DJ!

Minnesota 90, LA Lakers 110

(50-12)

I love games when Kobe sits for the whole fourth quarter. I especially love games when DJ Mbenga is a key player for us, because it means Pau is getting some rest and DJ is capably spelling our other All-Star. Gasol logged 31 minutes tonight and Kobe finished at just 28, while Mbenga set a new career high with 10 points. More impressive, though, was how he did it, scoring on 4 of 5 shots and picking up 4 rebounds and 5 blocks. He was Mr. Energy for the second straight game and the LA crowd ate it up. He was almost like Mark Madsen, only with actual athletic ability. 

This is the kind of win we should be getting more often. We steadily built and expanded the lead over each quarter, with a brief slip to start the third quarter. After allowing the Wolves to pull within 4 partway through the third, the Lakers knuckled down and held the Minnesota offense in check and put on a run to end the quarter up 18. The bench played the whole fourth and extended and then maintained the lead – a rare feat for a bunch of guys as likely to explode for a double-digit lead as to give one up. It was as entertaining a blowout as you’ll see, too, with Mbenga swatting everything in sight, Ariza throwing his body all over the place, and Shannon Brown jumping through the friggin’ roof. Someone get this guy in the dunk contest, pronto.

This little two game homestand was exactly what the doctor ordered. A little mental and physical fatigue had set in and the guys were looking sluggish, so a couple nights on the home front against subpar competition should pump them up for the road trip ahead. It was especially important for the bench, which was looking strangely ordinary of late, as they used these games to get their mojo working again, playing long, and successful, minutes in both. The subs are always going to play better at home, but hopefully they can carry some of this momentum with them as we head out into the wild blue yonder. Mbenga’s game in particular lends itself well to road games since he’s all about energy and defensive intensity, meaning that his offensive game – which is the side most susceptible to jitters – is not a crucial part of his role for us. If he can come in and do even half of what he did tonight, it will be incredibly helpful in resting Gasol to keep him fresh for the big moments. 

We now have another two days off before heading out for three games in four nights against some tough opposition: first Portland, where we haven’t won in four years, and then Houston and San Antonio on consecutive nights. This would be a good time to make a statement about our intentions to close the season with a bang and roll into the postseason at a brisk pace. Tonight we became the first team to 50 wins, and Phil said in the postgame chat that the goal is to be the first to 60. I don’t see why that shouldn’t happen.

All I got so far are some first half highlights. I’ll check for the rest later.

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The Skid Stops At Two

Posted by hiphopmama on March 3, 2009

The Brothers Gasol, or Battle of the Beards

The Brothers Gasol, or Battle of the Beards

Memphis 89, LA Lakers 99

(49-12)

Two words: D. J. Mbenga. (Forgive my Michael Scott impression.) With 4 points, 2 boards, 3 blocks, and 1 steal in 19 minutes, he was emblematic of the difference maker in this game, which was the bench. Our vaunted subs have been noticeably absent for a number of games now, and it has exposed our weaknesses without Bynum in the line-up. Because really, without Andrew, we’re just a talented offensive team that happens to be backed by a solid bench. With neither Bynum nor bench production, we are quite vulnerable to teams putting together big runs while Kobe and Pau are on the bench. 

But tonight, the bench was back, scoring 32 points and extending the lead in the fourth quarter to put it beyond Memphis’ reach. Of course, they then turned around and let them claw back to within 8, but they steadied themselves with the insertion of Gasol and closed the game out with the double-digit lead in tact. 

I’m tempted to say this was a game whose outcome was never in question, but I know better. There is no such thing as a money game, especially for this Lakers team, so a relatively comfortable victory against a horrible road team is good enough for me. In addition to the good bench play, our defense was passable, holding the Grizzlies to 41% shooting. Memphis is one of the worse shooting teams in the league, but we didn’t look as susceptible to defensive breakdowns as we have in recent games and the rotations seemed to be on target more often than not. And although the Grizzlies finished at 50% from three, we defended the outside shot much better tonight. I rarely saw us scrambling after the ball was swung to the weak side, a play which has caught us out many a time this season, and this is quite a comforting development. 

Players just showed up and filled their roles tonight. Kobe sensed that the team needed a good start after some poor showings, so he came out firing, finishing with 31 points in 30 minutes. Luke was aggressive offensively, hitting his open shots often enough and finding the open man as niftily as usual. Lamar had a terrible shooting night (1-for-8), but he made up for it with 13 rebounds, 8 assists, and 6 blocks in yet another energetic effort. He kept himself on the right side of the officials as well. Pau seemed a little out of sorts battling his brother, even shooting 50% from the free throw line, but other players picked it up, including Josh Powell (8 points) and Sasha Vujacic (11 points).

This little two-game homestand is just what we need before setting off on the road again, so with Memphis under our belts we can turn our attention to Minnesota on Friday. It will our second and final game of the week, which should hopefully allow us to refuel before heading out to take on Portland, Houston, and San Antonio. After that we have three games at home followed by a ridiculous SEVEN GAME road trip that includes stops in Detroit and Atlanta.Of the final 21 games, only 8 are at Staples, which has to be one of the toughest home stretches of any team in the league. If we intend to challenge for the title, though, we ought to be up to that challenge. We shall see.

Game recap:

Highlights:

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A Heartening Loss?

Posted by hiphopmama on February 27, 2009

If I never hear another "Bird Man" reference again it will be too soon.

If I never hear another "Bird Man" reference again it will be too soon.

LA Lakers 79, Denver 90

(48-11)

I can’t remember the last time a loss left me feeling so hopeful. Normally I like to give plenty of credit to the other team for holding up well enough to beat us, but tonight the best I can do is tip my hat to two players: Chauncey Billups and Chris Andersen. Those two guys were almost solely responsible for the Nuggets getting a result here, and without them, even as dismally as the Lakers played, we probably would have won. I realize that I usually completely ignore the other teams’ players in my write-ups, but Chris Andersen was a beast tonight, and I for one would love to see him or anyone like him coming off the bench for us. Talk about a success story for the NBDL.

The reason I feel so good about our team after the L is because we played, quite frankly, horrendous basketball. No, scratch that – just horrendous offense. It was probably the first time all year that our offense let us down, and it was fatigue. We’ve had some tough stretches in the past, and in the middle of bigger injury crises, but this is also the first time I’ve seen us truly tired and struggling because of it. The home-away back-to-back really kicked our ass this time. I mean, fuck, when’s the last time you saw us shoot under 30% from the field? I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’d bet dollars to pesos this was a first. And we STILL could have won, if we could have hit even half the shots we normally hit. We absolutely massacred them on the offensive glass and took 22 more shots as a result. If we had made just a few of those, it’s a different outcome, point blank. 

But I don’t even really care, because I am more convinced than ever that nobody in the Western Conference can hang with us. Obviously Denver is a rung or two below San Antonio and even New Orleans, but we were in this one the whole way playing at about 60%. When playoff time comes and there are no back-to-backs and Kobe is in full swing and Bynum is back….well, you get the picture. At least pre-Marbury, I was pretty confident we had the edge against the Eastern Conference behemoths as well, but I’ll have to withhold judgment until I see the new and improved Green Menace in action. Two new signings could have a huge effect for them, because Boston is like a catalyzing agent: additions that would otherwise be rather small tend to come in and have a disproportionate impact because of how quality a side they are. It just might put them over the top and give them enough firepower to beat Cleveland, but I’m still hoping for Kobe-Lebron in the Finals.

I went back and checked my previous Denver posts to make sure I hadn’t done this yet, so here goes. The Nuggets’ announcers suck a fat hairy one. I had gotten disgusted with the Celtics’ guys earlier and turned it off, but these Denver fools are painful. Every home crew is going to be partial; it’s just a given. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Lakers’ announcers call out a refereeing crew for any kind of favoritism. I understand that the Lakers are believed to get the benefit of the doubt, but it’s not like we never travel to Boston, Cleveland, etc., to take on other big names on big teams. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any announcer from ANY town bitch about the refs as much as these pricks did. Every fucking call was either “a Laker call” if it went our way or “good work by the ref” if it was for the Nuggets. I think once all game I heard them break this pattern. Then they had the nerve to bitch about OUR guys disputing calls. I was warming up to this cold-ass state after they came to their senses and voted the right way, but if they can put up with fools like these, I have my doubts.

In the end, this was kinda like that Utah game – just badly situated in the midst of a draining run of games. And to be fair, we deserve to have a few more of these with the easy schedule we had in the first half of the season. I think it’s fair to say that we had the breeziest first third of the season of any of the top teams, and we took advantage of it by racking up the wins. Now we have to roll with it as we make up for the initial cakewalk with a series of road trips and tough back-to-backs. If I know Phil, though, he’ll have his guys ready and playing for it when it counts. I was hoping for more after the starters got so much rest last night, but the whole team still looked beat and in no condition to be playing even D-League ball. They’ll bounce back, if for no other reason than because Phoenix is up next and Kobe never capitulates to a Shaq attack. 

I couldn’t find highlights but I did come across this postgame piece from KCAL about how they weren’t really up for this one with the late game and travel last night. That about sums it up.

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140? Not Tonight

Posted by hiphopmama on February 27, 2009

Suns Lakers

Phoenix 106, LA Lakers 132

(48-10)

Ah, that was sweet. It had little meaning as a win over the Suns, being that they were without their two most important players in Stoudemire and Nash. But it signified plenty as the kind of professional performance we have had a hard time putting together for a full 48. We started well, continued well, and finished well, building up and – here’s the key – maintaining a big enough lead that the starters didn’t have to make an appearance in the fourth quarter. It’s always nice to see your superstars icing the knees with more than 10 minutes left to play.

We were on offensively all game, but it took us about half of the first quarter to bother with defense. When we finally paid some attention to it, we went on a big run and put them away before the second quarter even began. We shot 57.4% for the game (!) and held the Suns to 42.9%, which is saying something since our reserves all got in the game for considerable minutes. 

My highlight of the game, other than the blowout? DJ Mbenga. Dude played 15 minutes, shot 4-of-7 for 8 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists, and 2 blocks, and more importantly, he spelled Gasol for long stretches without giving up the lead. I had almost forgotten he existed, but there he was last night, playing competently and helping keep Gasol’s minutes under 25 for the first time since the fall of the USSR. Especially in the first of a home-away back-to-back, that meant a lot. I hope he can give that kind of performance all the time, because it would help prevent any more Pau burnout as we await Bynum’s return. 

There really isn’t much to say about this one. We absolutely blew them out of the water, especially their little miniature line-up with Grant Hill at power forward. So instead of any kind of in-depth analysis, I’m going to give you our guys’ shooting numbers.

  • Luke Walton: 6 (3-6)
  • Derek Fisher: 7 (2-3)
  • Pau Gasol: 16 (6-12)
  • Kobe Bryant: 22 (10-13)
  • Lamar Odom: 23 (11-12)
  • Sasha Vujacic: 14 (5-14)
  • Jordan Farmar: 12 (5-10)
  • Trevor Ariza: 10 (3-9)
  • DJ Mbenga: 8 (4-7)
  • Josh Powell: 6 (2-3)
  • Adam Morrison: 5 (2-4)
  • Shannon Brown: 3 (1-1)

Only two below .500 shooting and everyone got on the score sheet. And hot damn, look at Kobe and Lamar. Odom missed just one shot all game and Kobe missed three. They were a combined 21-for-25 for 45 points. Disgusting. 

Game recap:

Highlights:

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UCLA Basketball Reunion

Posted by hiphopmama on February 24, 2009

Lakers Thunder

LA Lakers 107, Oklahoma City 93

(47-10)

Could we have had any more UCLA alumni in the game tonight? At some point or other, Earl Watson, Russell Westbrook, Trevor Ariza, and Jordan Farmar all made appearances as former Bruins. It had nothing to do with any aspect of the game, but it was still interesting. How often does that happen anyway?

I have a new theory about why we don’t put teams away before absolutely necessary. It’s not that we’re apathetic or lack that killer instinct or are mentally weak or lazy. We’re sadists. We enjoy inflicting pain upon others, and while a 30-point blow-out might be crushing, nothing is as devastating as believing you may have a chance to beat the Lakers only to see them snatch it away at the last minute. Imagine how giddy the players and fans of a team like the Thunder must get at the thought of stealing a win against the team with the best record in the NBA? It’s a natural reaction – as natural as the “beat L.A.” chant that inevitably follows – so we let them indulge in it for a god while, until the zen-master decides to put them out of their misery and close the deal. Or until the game is over, whichever comes first. That’s gotta be it, right?

I’m sure you can tell from all that how this game went. It was pretty comfortable for the first two and a half quarters. Then the Thunder mounted a run, Kobe went to the bench, and we floundered for an extended period, letting them come all the way back to within one. Phil doggedly refused to bring Kobe back in until the 9:17 mark of the fourth quarter, and that was all she wrote. Kobe had been content to probe and take what the defense was giving him through the first three, but in the fourth he did as he pleased. He scored 15 points in those last nine minutes on some ridiculous contested jumpers, free throws, and a couple drives. He also assisted on a couple other baskets that helped put the game away. 

So that makes it 2-0 on this rather brief road trip. We return home for Thursday’s game against Phoenix, but then we have the second of a back-to-back in Denver against the Nuggets before heading to Arizona to take on the Suns again. That’s three straight games against playoff-bound opposition after some decidedly average performances against mediocre teams. We usually play better against the tougher teams, but it’s a rough few days with travel and all, so we’ll have to wait and see. In any case, you know Kobe will be up for the two against Shaq and eager to give his former teammate a taste of his own ass. That is often enough to get us the win. I just hope we can get Pau’s minutes under 40 for one or two of those. He played 42 again tonight, and it stands to reason that he can’t keep that pace up forever. Come on, Lakers. Go ahead and sign Robert Horry or Mikki Moore. Anybody who can stand in there for a few minutes while Pau gets a breather. We need the newly fortified Gasol for the coming playoff run. Let’s keep him fresh for when we need him most.

Game recap:

Highlights:

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A Win Is A Win…I Guess

Posted by hiphopmama on February 22, 2009

Kobe moved into 20th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elgin Baylor

Kobe moved into 20th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elgin Baylor

LA Lakers 111, Minnesota 108

(46-10)

What is it about these little pissant teams that trips us up so bad? No offense to the Charlottes and Oklahoma Cities of the world, but they should not be able to hang with us, yet we continually have to work our butts off till the final whistle, and sometimes beyond, to get a win. 

I don’t have time for a full post – I was too busy getting nostalgic over some classic Tupac (review coming soon to RapReviews.com) – so I’ll restrict my comments to the basics.

  1. Why the FUCK can’t we defend the three point line? This has been a near constant since the beginning of the season, and at this point it seems like we’re just conceding it. Like Phil is saying, “Fine, bomb away from downtown, but you’re not getting in the paint.” Which I understand, I suppose, but how hard is it to modify that strategy in the final moments of the game when the only thing that can hurt you is a three? Sersly! (Word to Nana.)
  2. Role players are the key to unlock the universe. Our big three – Kobe, Pau, and Lamar – really carried us tonight, until the very end, when we needed some clutch plays from other sources. This time, Luke Walton and Derek Fisher were the two to step up and drag us across the finish line, both hitting key threes at big moments. Kudos to both of those guys. Stay ready, boys.
  3. You know Phil is worried about Gasol’s minutes when DJ Mbenga is getting in the game. I’m glad I’m not the only one noticing a troubling trend in Pau’s 40+ minutes per game since Mihm’s departure, but Mbenga’s three minutes did little to offset the 41 Gasol put in and didn’t indicate much future playing time. I would hope we could start putting some weaker teams away so as to rest our overworked Spaniard, but I’m beginning to think that would be too much to ask. Let’s all just pray Bynum recovers quicker than expected.

And that’s all I got. Apparently the Lakers were vying for their own Oscar in the suspense category as they bent over backwards to let Craig Smith shoot 9-of-10 in order to keep the game tight. Very nice.

Game recap:

Highlights:

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Madrid Gains More Ground

Posted by hiphopmama on February 22, 2009

barca-espanyol

Barcelona 1-2 Espanyol

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

madrid-betis

    Real Madrid 6-1 Real Betis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Barcelona-Espanyol highlights:

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