All Balls Don’t Bounce

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

Posts Tagged ‘shannon brown’

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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It Had To Be

Posted by hiphopmama on May 21, 2009

Nuggets Lakers
Denver 106, LA Lakers 103
     Series tied 1-1

Did anyone really expect this series to go any other way?  After watching game 1? Please. We Laker fans may have harbored dreams of taking a commanding 2-0 lead and picking them off in 5 or 6, but this series screams “seven games” loud and clear. If it weren’t for the Bulls-Celtics first round series, I would not hesitate to dub this one a classic in the making, but as it stands it is likely to play second fiddle after that stunner. Yet while that match-up yielded more purely fantastic results, game after game, the stakes in this series are so much higher that, even without a single overtime game, this one might trump it. 

With that build-up, you just knew we were going to be heading back to Denver at 1-1. The frustrating part was how it happened. Tonight’s script was a reverse image of game 1, with the Lakers jumping out to the big first half lead – as high as 14 points – only to watch it dwindle and then disappear in the fourth quarter. Somehow, even with that big lead, we were the ones playing catch-up late in the game after Denver roared back to claim a 7-point lead at the 9-minute mark of the fourth. Our almost savior tonight was the three-point line, as big shots kept us in the running on numerous occasions. Back-to-back threes by Kobe and Brown cut that 7-point lead to 1, and a tough pull-up from distance by Kobe evened the score at 99. This time, though, the Nuggets were the ones who performed down the stretch, making free throw after free throw and executing (just) effectively enough to stave off a cataclysmic 2-0 series deficit. 

Carmelo had another stellar game despite a slow start, finishing with 34 points and 9 rebounds, including some incredible displays of strength on the offensive glass in crunch time. The way he effortlessly muscles defenders out of the way is a sight to behold, although it’s one I wouldn’t mind never witnessing again this season. He has officially shed the “chokes in big situations” tag he earned early in his career. He has stepped up marvelously in this series, going head to head with Kobe and coming up essentially even with one of the best to ever do it. Win, lose, or draw, I have gained a lot of respect for him, especially in his evident maturation as a person and player. Rather than engaging in Kenyon Martin style demonstrations after the play, he now simply jogs back up court and gets his job done. It doesn’t preempt him from being incredibly intense or maintaining his focus at all times, but it does prevent the occasional self-destruction he was prone to in the past. It’s nice to see that players can indeed develop in this way, and he is currently reaping the benefits.

On the (very small) plus side, our bigs played better in this game, looking less like the Swiss cheese they resembled in game 1. Pau had a strong night on the boards (17 rebounds plus 17 points), but two consecutive missed free throws late in the fourth put a damper on his rejuvenated performance. Odom played capably as well, as did Bynum, but Andrew was somewhat MIA as a result of Phil’s resorting to a smaller line-up, with Shannon Brown picking up a lot of those minutes. He played well in them too, scoring 8 points and hitting a big three in the fourth quarter. What was extra impressive was his willingness to take and make the big shot in an important situation. His worth just keeps going up and up.

I think the only take-home lesson from these first two games is that this is going to be a tight, tight series with little breathing room. I wouldn’t be surprised if, at the end of the series, the total point differential over a full seven games was under 25 or 30 points. Right now, we’re on pace for more like 20 points of differential between these two teams, a testament to how well constructed and well coached they both are. 

Highlights:

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to game 3 we go…

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A Champion Caliber Win

Posted by hiphopmama on May 8, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights:

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

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Luke To Play In Game 2

Posted by hiphopmama on May 6, 2009

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

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Kobe Wills Us To 3-1

Posted by hiphopmama on April 25, 2009

Michael Moment 1 of 39482039572945

Michael Moment 1 of 39482039572945

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One Down, Fifteen To Go

Posted by hiphopmama on April 20, 2009

Translation: "I'm Kobe Bryant and you're not."

Translation: "I'm Kobe Bryant and you're not."

Utah 100, LA Lakers 113
Lakers lead series 1-0

That went pretty much according to plan. We got a fairly comfortable double-digit victory on our home floor against the lowest ranked playoff opposition in the Western Conference. It’s nothing to get over-excited about, but it definitely puts us on the right path.

I won’t do much game summary, since everyone in the world was able to watch this one, but suffice it to say that, once we got ourselves on the scoreboard after a few tries, we never looked back. We allowed the Jazz to put up a big third quarter against us when we came out of the break looking complacent, as if we thought we had already won the game, but we played them even after that and the 22-point halftime margin saw us through to a game one victory. The statistical breakdown is encouraging as well. Only Kobe hit the 40-minute mark, which is to be expected from him in the postseason – I swear the guy is a cyborg – and Pau barely got to 37 before picking up his sixth personal and fouling out for the first time all season. The most comforting aspect of the game was how much production we got outside of those two. Trevor Ariza led us in scoring most of the way, until Kobe decided to let loose and seal it for us, and his 21 points came on a clutch 8-for-10 shooting performance. Lamar chipped in a solid 13 as well, and Luke got himself on the board as well with 5. And what can you say about Shannon (not Chris, Jeff) Brown? 3-for-4 from the field, all threes, for 9 points, plus 3 assists and a couple boards on top of his all-around hustle play. Can I start this man’s fan club?

Because it was such a straightforward game, it might be tempting to dismiss this Jazz team – as, I’ll admit, I have essentially done – but there were a few points from this match-up that are worth keeping an eye on. For one, we foul this team way too much. How often do opposing teams shoot more free throws than us? Okay, I honestly have no idea, but I’d have to guess we generally win in that category. Today, however, we continued the trend we started in the final regular season game by putting Utah on the line seemingly every possession. They shot 35 damn free throws to our 32. That’s not a huge margin or anything, but it’s still too many to be giving up to a team that relies so heavily on the pick and roll and has no true big man. Where exactly are all these fouls coming from? Granted, Deron Williams will draw a handful or two on his own, but why do we need to foul Ronnie Brewer EVER? All the fouls were part of a slightly troubling lack of composure for a few moments, which resulted in technical fouls for both Kobe and Lamar and threatened to halt our momentum. Harpring is an irritating little bastard, but he’s got nothing to really threaten us with besides his wayward forearms so just let him slide. In a similar vein, our 17 turnovers weren’t particularly pleasant either, especially since almost all of Utah’s offense came off of our missteps. If we can clean it up just a tad, we won’t have another problem in this series, or any other for that matter. Realistically, however, we will have a one-game slip-up somewhere along the way, almost certainly in Utah, and that will snap us back into focus. Let’s hope it comes at a not too painful time.

Game recap:

Highlights:

One final raised glass here to Kobe, who controlled the game throughout without having to dominate possession or take all the shots. He looked to set up his teammates from the beginning, getting them going before seeking out his own shot, and it paid big dividends in the form of multiple teammates getting and staying in rhythm. Trevor’s offensive explosion – and career playoff-high numbers – can be largely attributed to Kobe setting the table for him early on. Same goes for Shannon’s threes. He was a maestro out there today in orchestrating the whole team, and he was still able to step up and knock down bunches of baskets when we needed him to. Best player in the world till Lebron takes it from him via a title. I’m still waiting.

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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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WTF Is Up With Portland?

Posted by hiphopmama on April 10, 2009

Is it the postseason yet?

Is it the postseason yet?

LA Lakers 98, Portland 106

(63-17)

Even more importantly, what is up with Phil? He just didn’t feel like traveling to the Pacific Northwest this weekend? He needed a little breather before the playoffs? I’ve never heard of a coach missing a game for a foot injury, but I am not yet of that venerable age so maybe I just don’t get it. Whatever the case, we were coach-less tonight, with Kurt Rambis filling in for the beardless one, and I can’t believe I’m saying this but it actually mattered. Not an excuse, just something to note. Believe me – we don’t need any excuses for losses in the Rose Garden. Not at this point anyway.

I won’t go into the whole game much. It was a good one, with both teams sparring and feeling each other out, taking what the opponent had to offer and then counter-punching with the best of them. The teams traded leads a few times, but a Portland surge gave the Blazers a small lead late and forced us to play catch-up down the stretch. Kobe and Brandon Roy squared off in a battle of two of the game’s best closers, and Kobe was not the victor tonight. Granted, it’s easier to play as the front-runner in that situation, but Roy was tough as nails and aggressive in the clutch. It takes cojones to want to take those meaningful shots late in games, and Roy was sporting a Sam Cassell pair in this one. After Kobe and Wade, he’s the best I’ve seen this year. As with Dwyane, I can’t even be mad about it because I like the dude.

I’m baffled as to how this can be, but I actually like this Blazers team as a whole. It’s quite a change from their old toker persona, when Sheed and Stoudemire were passing blunts rather than basketballs, and their youngsters are a likable bunch. LaMarcus Aldridge, despite a relatively quiet 16 tonight, has an impressive all-around game to complement his size and strength on the block. Steve Blake is one of those hard-nosed utility guys at the point, and he proved he can hit key shots tonight as well. Travis Outlaw is another fun player to watch and is explosive off the bench. And Brandon Roy is a superstar in the making who I fully expect to be a perennial all-star in the league. To top it off, none of them has the A-hole attitude that the old Blazers possessed in spades. Batum has his moments, but nothing that approaches Rasheed levels of impertinence. I wish them well, although I wouldn’t be sad to see them go out in the first round. I’ll be damned if I want to see us head up to Portland again this year.

And now to swagger-jack one of my favorite soccer blogs, Ole Ole’s Chelsea blog, with the following segment: the good, the bad, and the ugly. First off the good:

  • Shannon Brown. He has been by far my favorite Laker over the past week. He comes in and just does his job with the requisite hustle. Shooting 4-for-4 with two 3-pointers doesn’t hurt, either, and his contributions were much appreciated tonight, as evidenced by his 20 minutes on the floor. Farmar has slipped way down the bench, playing just 5 minutes tonight and going 0-for-2, but I’m not particularly sad about it. Brown even proved that he can fill in at the point a little, paired with Sasha in the backcourt, which gives us lots more options in there. For a throw-in on a cap-saving trade deal, he’s been quite an addition. 
  • Brandon Roy. Gotta give credit where it’s due, and Roy certainly earned it tonight. He didn’t have the most amazing shooting night, but just like Kobe, he found a way to get it done when it counted and his team reaped the benefits. Keep an eye on this one. (Not “that one,” as per McCain. Just saying.)
  • Kobe Bryant. I suppose you have to put him in here for scoring 32 points and carrying us down the stretch, but it wasn’t a stellar performance from him in general. He was in foul trouble from jump, picked up a technical foul, and spent more time pouting than defending at times. Wait, this is the “good” section…
  • Lamar Odom. 17 points off the bench, plus 10 boards for the double-double. That is one helluva sixth man. Bynum is still a step – or maybe two or three – slow, but the ability to bring a player like Odom off the bench is a huge luxury that we should use to our advantage from here on out.

And the bad:

  • Derek Fisher. 1-for-7 and 2 points in 23 minutes. Is he getting tired? He definitely had to carry a heavy load this season when Farmar went out, so maybe it’s catching up with him. Maybe he’s just coasting to the finish line before the postseason push. Don’t want to be too harsh on him because he’s always come through for us when we needed him, but I’m hoping he can pick it up in the playoffs. We need his leadership out there, but not without any kind of production.
  • Trevor Ariza. He came out with a bang when he was first inserted into the starting line-up, but his effectiveness has waned since then. Even his defense hasn’t been as sparkling as usual, so I wonder whether a move back to the bench might not be in order. He seems to thrive there anyway.
  • Team defense. Okay, that’s not entirely true, but at the same time it is. We held the Blazers to 42.7% shooting and took them out of their offense at times, but we got all of 2 steals for the whole game. What happened to the old swarming team that forced double-digit turnovers in a half? I understand that a more settled D is helping us hold down opponent shooting percentages, but the drop-off can’t be this huge. We just looked tired tonight, which makes sense since it was the second of a home-away back-to-back. We also had just one block to Portland’s 6 and were out-rebounded 44-39. 
  • Pau Gasol. This one may seem unmerited, but even at 6-of-9 from the floor it was an off night for Pau. He only had 12 points and, despite the score sheet listing him as just 1 turnover, made a number of iffy plays that hurt our possession chances. Ticky-tack fouls, followed by plenty of whining, and little of the aggression he’s shown this year. Again, I’m attributing it to end of season lethargy. Please prove me right.

And finally, the ugly:

  • Game management. Kurt, you may have designed a good defensive strategy for this team, but you, sir, are no Phil Jackson. Big surprise, I know, but Phil’s absence was palpable tonight, much to my own shock. PJ is usually barely sentient on the sidelines, sporting the same expression in good times and bad, but he at least has the team prepared. Kurt didn’t do that tonight. As the game wound down and we were playing catch-up, he just didn’t have the guys ready to make the necessary plays. He called time-outs that Phil wouldn’t, because apparently he hadn’t thought ahead to call the next play as PJ would have, and even our veteran point guard committed an ill-advised foul when we just needed to play tough D. Kobe was furious, and some of the blame must lie with Fish, but the coach should have drilled the plan into the players’ heads before that point. We were like an orchestra without our maestro tonight. And I thought he was just a figurehead. 

So there you have it. An over-long run-down of that one, but I felt it was needed following another disappointing loss in Portland. Thank god we at least have home court against these fools come playoff time, although I won’t be rooting for that match-up. Two more home games and then we’re off. And home court throughout is looking less and less likely.

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Welcome Back, Andrew!

Posted by hiphopmama on April 9, 2009

Nuggets Lakers

Denver 102, LA Lakers 116

(63-16)

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m Baaaack!

Posted by hiphopmama on April 7, 2009

Scruffy white guy alert

Scruffy white guy alert

LA Lakers 122, Sacramento 104

(62-16)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights:

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