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Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Not Listening To Your Girlfriend Is Sometimes Necessary: Clippers Historic Comeback (4.29.12)

Generally, I only watch Lakers games. Sometimes I sprinkle in a big matchup, or catch a Clippers game, but generally, I only watch Lakers games. My girlfriend has become accustomed to this. Watching 82 games a year is quite a lot, even this shortened season was a lot, as the 66 games were compacted into an every other night type of scheduling. However, when the playoffs roll around, I like to watch every single game. Playoff basketball should not be missed. It is important to see how teams are playing, and it is exciting to watch. Saturday, day one of the playoffs, consisted of hours upon hours of basketball. Sunday included a trip to Staples Center for the Lakers game one matchup against the Nuggets. When I got home, I arrived on time to catch the Clippers vs the Grizzlies. My girlfriend let out huge sigh and said, "Can we watch something else." The phrase may grammatically require a question mark, but she phrased it more as a demand. I promptly replied, "No, it's the playoffs."

For some couples, this rejection would lead to a fight. However, Shannon understands my love of basketball and she knows that I would have changed the channel if it wasn't the playoffs. Such is our dynamic. Understanding coupled with compromise is important for all relationships.

After watching Memphis ride their crowd for a boisterous 34-16 advantage to begin the game, I wondered if the game was going to be a blow out. It seemed like Memphis hit every shot they took in that first quarter. The crowd was going nuts, possibly providing the loudest cheers we will hear in the playoffs. Memphis was in swagger mode, hitting shots and feeding off the crowd with jubilant celebrations.

However, the Clippers played the Grizzlies even in the second and third quarters. The Clippers were only outscored by 3 points total in those two quarters. The Grizzlies started the fourth quarter up 87-64. The Grizzlies led 95-71 with 8:00 left to play. My girlfriend looked at me and said, "Can we change it now?" This time I considered her request. She phrased it as a question instead of a demand, and I felt she was right. But for some reason I said, "Let's just wait a minute." Well those words saved me from missing out on the biggest comeback in NBA playoff history.

The Clippers ran off an incredible 28-3 run and the rest is history. The Clippers won 99-98 and tied the biggest comeback ever to start a fourth quarter in the shot clock era, as they trailed by 21. The Grizzlies biggest lead was 27 with 2:38 left in the third quarter. From the 8 minute mark on, the Clippers shot 10-13, including 4-4 from deep.

However, holding a comfortable 12 point lead with 2:57 left to play, the Grizzlies were still feeling pretty good about their play. Although they went 0-6, along with 3 turnovers in that five minute stretch, they probably felt pretty confident about holding onto a 12 point lead with just under 3 minutes to play.

Then Nick Young went berserk. Chris Paul attacked from the top near side down to the baseline and under the rim. Paul saw Young use a flare screen from Griffin in order to get open in the far corner, and he promptly kicked it out to him. Young caught the ball and shot the far corner 3 with confidence, as Gay was just a little late on the closeout due to the flare screen. That got the Clippers under double digits for the first time since the opening quarter. Then O.J. Mayo missed a pull up jumper from the far mid wing in order to beat the shot clock. Paul grabbed the board and pushed the ball in transition right down the middle. He attacked to the top of the key and kicked out to Young at the near side 3 as the defense converged on him. Young caught and shot the open 3, swish. That put the deficit at six. Young was hyped, and the Clippers bench began to celebrate.

Following Young's second straight 3, the Memphis home crowd began to cheer their team on, just waiting and hoping for a bucket to go in. Conley tried to fulfill their desire, as he attacked from the top to the near side of the rim. However, Blake Griffin was in perfect position under the rim and he altered Conley's shot, forcing Conley to throw up an ugly lefty heave that missed the entire rim. Paul took the outlet and pushed the floor with a 3-on-2 advantage. Paul attacked from the middle with Griffin on his left preparing to attack the rim, and Young on his right widening out to the near side 3 point line. Once again, Paul got to the top of the key and passed it to Young at almost the same exact spot as his previous shot. Young caught the pass and shot the open 3 in rhythm as Rudy Gay frantically tried to close out on him. Young swished the shot and the crowd groaned in disappointment. Memphis immediately called timeout and the Clippers all began to chest bump and high five each other as they gathered at the bench. Nick Young hit three straight 3's in exactly one minute, making the score 96-93, Grizzlies lead, with 1:47 to play.

During the timeout, the telecast showed many fans in the stadium. Their faces were full of resignation and defeat. No one had positive body language. They were shocked and disappointed at the same time. Frowns were everywhere, people were biting their fingernails, it was a sight to see. After such a raucous opening quarter, where the crowd absolutely bolstered Memphis into dizzying heights of excellence, the complete opposite was occurring late in the fourth. Out of the timeout, Memphis set up a play to try to get a high low look. Conley stood at the far top 3 and swung the ball to Gasol at the near top of the key. Gasol looked to hit Zach Randolph on the near block, but Blake Griffin surprised Gasol with a reach that tapped the ball out of Gasol's hands. Gasol ended up taking a foul to prevent Blake from dunking on the break, and Blake, almost surprisingly, made two clutch free throws to put the Clippers down 1 with 1:30 to play. Blake Griffin's two straight defensive plays are huge steps forward in his young career. Blake's progress as a defensive presence has a long way to go, but those two stops were huge.

The Grizzles then fed Zach Randolph at the far mid block. Randolph famously carried Memphis last postseason with impossible shots that kept falling. Randolph pounded the ball and ended up shooting a one-foot fade away "Dirk shot" from the far baseline. Randolph air balled it, and Tony Allen barely missed the putback. Allen caught the air ball in mid air on the far side and softly bounced the ball off the backboard, only to watch it roll off the far front side of the rim. Chris Paul then ran a high pick and roll from the top with Reggie Evans, and he ended up feeding Evans an easy layup in the lane. The Clippers took their first lead of the game. Memphis then set up Rudy Gay on the far mid block. With Paul switched onto Gay, Gay easily posted up Paul and shot the turnaround jumper. Gay hit the clutch jumper and gave the Grizzlies the lead once again. Paul then attacked from the top and got to the near elbow. Allen reached and Paul got the call. Allen got a lot of ball on the reach, as he and Paul had their arms tangle, but he also hit Paul on the arm before he almost came up with the steal. Paul sank both of his free throws, putting the Clippers up 99-98 with 23.7 remaining. The Grizzlies ran a motion set in order to get Gay the ball. Gay caught the ball at the far top at about 40ft away from the basket with 13.8 on the clock. Gay held the ball and attacked to his right, forcing Kenyon Martin to take the foul with 9.8 on the clock. The Grizzlies set up their out of bounds play on the far side to hit Gay at the same spot on the far side about 40ft away. Gay caught the ball and began to size up Kenyon as the crowd anxiously began cheering. Gay attacked to his left, got to the near elbow and made contact with Martin to create some space. Kenyon barely budged and Gay shot the contested fading 16ft jumper from the elbow. The shot came up short on the near side of the rim.

The Clippers all gathered on the court and let their emotions take over. Blake Griffin was especially pumped up, jumping around and full of adrenaline. Craig Sager interviewed Chris Paul on the court and asked him, "Well Chris, this is probably the most amazing comeback in NBA playoff history, you were a part of it, at what point did you think you had a chance to win?" Paul replied, "Man, the whole time man. I can honestly tell you, at the end of the third quarter, coach had took me out and I went nuts. I said, 'Coach give us a chance, just give us a chance.' He put us back in there, Bledsoe got going, uh Nick Young was amazing. Reggie Evans get the game ball though, he was unreal. And then K-Mart had been sitting out all that time, come out and guard their best player and we get a stop." After playing the Grizzlies even in the second and third quarter, Chris Paul fully believed in his team and their ability to come back. His answer sheds some light on Vinny Del Negro. Paul implied that Vinny may have been ready to concede the defeat. Vinny may have just been resting his main guys for the stretch run, either way, it worked. The Clippers forced the Grizzlies to go 1-11 with 3 turnovers in the final eight minutes. The Clippers also topped the Grizzlies' scorching 34-16 opening quarter by finishing the fourth quarter with a 35-13 advantage.

After Nick Young's barrage of 3's, I looked over at Shannon and said, "This is why I didn't want to change the channel." She had nothing to say. By the time the game was over, she stated, "That was crazy." Yes, it was crazy. The Clippers stole home court advantage and did it in such an improbable and historic manner.

Boy am I glad I didn't listen to my girlfriend.


Andrew Bynum Makes History (4.29.12)

Since I attended game one against the Denver Nuggets, I am going to post a live impression, along with the research I looked up once I returned home.

Staples Center is ready to rock.
My girlfriend and I met up with my parents about an hour and a half before the game. We planned on getting lunch before the game, so we headed over to the Yard House, right across from Staples Center in the L.A. Live section. Lakers paraphernalia was everywhere. The buzz was tangible, everyone was excited for game one of the Mike Brown era. As many of us waited for our food, close eyes were kept upon the numerous televisions as the Spurs and Jazz battled during their matchup. However, the Spurs went on a big run, putting them ahead by fifteen or so in the third quarter, and everyone seemed to stop watching and instead focus on their friends and family. After throwing down some delicious sliders, my family and I headed over to Staples Center.

One great thing about attending a playoff game, besides the game itself, is the freebie you usually receive. This time, everyone in attendance was given a white shirt that used large purple lettering to spell, "One At A Time," across the front with a Lakers logo centered underneath. The back employed small purple lettering, "2012 Playoff Time," centered and just below the shoulders. Freebies like this are obviously accounted for in the ticket price, which always rises during the playoffs, however, these freebies are limited, precious, and serve as a cool keepsake. However, these freebies are also expected to be worn during the game. If you saw the Thunder vs the Mavericks in game one, you saw the solidarity of crowd, as they all wore the Thunder blue shirts they were given. Well Los Angeles is not Oklahoma City. Although people may love the keepsake, Lakers fans usually don't don the adornment. The richer types come dressed to impress, and the normal fans all sport their favorite player with either a jersey or shirt of some type. Wearing a generic shirt, actually limited but generic inside Staples, is just not going to happen. I would estimate that considerably less than half of the crowd wore the shirt.

Now my impressions of the game. Andrew Bynum impressively highlighted the old cliche, you can't teach size. Bynum looked bigger, and was bigger, than everyone on the court, and it was obvious. To foreshadow his huge defensive game, Bynum opened the first quarter with blocks on Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and a nasty block on Al Harrington as Harrington tried to dunk the ball. All of these blocks came in the paint as Bynum rotated from the weak side. Even more impressive, Bynum remained engaged in the game without taking a single shot until 4:24 was left in the second quarter. His only three buckets in the first half all came in the second quarter, with a tip putback, and two dunks. Andrew Bynum showed outstanding maturity. He did not sulk about his lack of shots. He understood that every time he touched the ball, the Nuggets doubled him hard. He knew that his role would be to draw doubles and kick out to the open man. Unable to provide a scoring impact upon the game, Bynum decided to prevent the Nuggets from being able to score. Bynum picked up his fourth block in the second quarter. Bynum switched onto Lawson due to a pick and roll. The Nuggets cleared out, hoping to take advantage of the mismatch. Lawson blew by Bynum and drove to the rim. Bynum stayed within swatting distance as he remained about a half a step behind Lawson. Lawson went up at the rim, and Bynum swatted his shot from behind. Bynum's effort was outstanding.

Other impressions during the first half involved Devin Ebanks and Kobe Bryant. Coming into the series without Metta World Peace, Ebanks knew his role was going to increase. Ebanks played solid defense on the Nuggets main weapon, Danilo Gallinari. Although Gallo shot a respectable 4-7 in the first half, Ebanks made sure that Gallo didn't go off like the Nuggets needed him to. Limiting Gallo to just seven attempts was a win all by itself. Gallinari is the biggest threat to the Lakers, and if he has a huge game and drops something like 40 points, the Lakers will be in trouble. Ebanks was up in his grill all game and made his life difficult. With Gallo only getting seven attempts, the next logical man to step up would have been Arron Afflalo. Afflalo is capable of big games, but he only went 1-4 in the first half. With Bynum controlling the paint, the wing defenders were able to play aggressive defense because they knew that their backs were covered in the paint. Limiting the top two scorers of Gallinari and Afflalo to a combined 5-11 was a huge win in the first half. Ebanks also contributed on the offensive end, securing about 16 first half minutes and making sure to avoid becoming an offensive liability. Ebanks went 5-6 for 12 points and he also pulled down 3 rebounds in the opening half. Ebanks attacked the rim aggressively, getting a trip to the line as well as two dunks. Even more surprising, Ebanks hit three jumpers, one from 18ft, 19ft, and 9ft. Overall it was a great half for Ebanks.

As for Kobe, things weren't so great for him to start the game. Kobe shot just 2-10 in the first half. Every time he missed, the crowd around me would let out some minor groans. Kobe just couldn't make a jumper. He got many good looks, but the shots weren't falling. Kobe was shooting within the flow of the offense, but his shots weren't dropping. As the fans around me groaned, I waited patiently for Kobe to get his act together. I realized that Kobe was not dropping his shots, shots that he usually makes with ease. The second half proved his vengeance, as Kobe made a huge adjustment and got into the paint, making his life easier. In the first half Kobe missed from 13ft, 14ft, 20ft, 17ft, 6ft, 28ft, 16ft, and 13ft, in that order. His two makes were from 2ft and 18ft. With his mid range game struggling, Kobe abandoned the midrange jumper and attacked the rim in the second half. Kobe finished the first half 2-10 for 8 points, with 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover.

The Lakers ended the first half up 50-40. Andrew Bynum's dominance in the paint set the tone of the game. On numerous occasions the crowd loudly chanted defense without the prompting of the house band. The spontaneity of the crowd was pretty cool. Usually the house band starts the chants with their back beats during the game, however, the fans came ready and were amped up enough to organically start their own chants to support their team.

In the third quarter the Lakers stretched the lead up to as high as 19 points. Kobe went 3-6 for 9 points, with 1 rebound and 1 turnover. Kobe's makes came from 2ft, 14ft, and 4ft. His misses came from 20ft twice and 10ft. Pau went 3-5, 1-1 from deep, for 7 points, with 1 rebound, 2 assists, and 1 block. Bynum continued his excellence in the paint, blocking 4 more shots for a total of 8 by the end of the third quarter. Bynum blocked the undersized Kenneth Faried in the paint twice, once during a putback attempt and the other as the last line of defense at the rim for a volleyball spike out of bounds. Bynum then swatted Al Harrington in the paint as a weak side helper, and he even stepped out on a pick and roll rotation to block an 11ft jumper by Andre Miller. Bynum's defensive activity was stellar and the crowd loudly cheered him every time he swatted a shot. Bynum also went 2-3 for 4 points, with 3 rebounds. The Lakers ended the quarter up 77-66.

In the fourth the Lakers continued to stretch the lead. Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill scored the opening 8 points until Kobe and Bynum checked in at the 7:47 mark. Hill went 2-2 for 4 points and 2 rebounds during this stretch. Pau went 2-5 for 4 points and 2 rebounds. Kobe proceeded to put the game away by living in the lane. Kobe went 6-8 for 15 points, along with 1 rebound until he checked out with 1:58 to play. Kobe's barrage came in the paint, as he went 5-6 from within 5ft. Kobe went 1-2 from the outside, hitting from 17ft but missing a 26ft 3 pointer. Kobe wisely abandoned his failing jumper and attacked the rim with aggressiveness. As a guard, Kobe's post moves are unparalleled in today's NBA. He had one up and under with his left hand that was just sublime. With Kobe on fire, the fans began chanting "We want tacos," around the six minute mark. If you are unaware, Jack in the Box has a promotion where they give out a coupon for two free tacos to everyone in attendance if the Lakers hold their opponent under 100 points. With the Lakers ahead comfortably, the fans stayed to the end in order to receive their free tacos.

Although Kobe finished 11-24 for 31 points with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and just 2 turnovers, the real star of the night was Andrew Bynum. Within his first minute and a half of checking back in during the fourth quarter, Bynum was switched onto Gallinari, and he swatted Gallo's layup. Two minutes later, Bynum sealed his impressive night by blocking Mozgov's lefty hook in the lane with 3:01 remaining. With that, Bynum recorded his tenth block of the night and set NBA history. Bynum finished the game 5-7 for 10 points, along with 13 rebounds, 10 blocks, 1 steal, and just 1 turnover. Bynum became just the sixth Laker to ever record a triple double in the playoffs, and the first one since Magic Johnson had one in the '91 finals. He also became just the third player to ever accumulate 10 blocks in a playoff game. Mark Eaton swatted 10 in 1985 and Hakeem Olajuwon recorded 10 in 1990. It is truly rare to see 10 blocks in a game, and it's even rarer to see a triple double performance with 10 blocks involved in a playoff game. Bynum's performance was historical.

Every Bynum block was greeted with loud cheers from the fans. Bynum may have previously felt that his only chance for stardom was producing buckets, but with every block he recorded, Bynum was treated like a star. The fans went nuts every time and showed Bynum a lot of love. Mike Brown commented after the game, "He can control the game without shooting a single shot [...] and if he continues to play like he did, being the type of monster he was tonight controlling the paint, we'll be playing a long time." Wins always lead to love. Andrew's performance led to a win, and if he keeps this up, his amassed wins will lead to Lakers lore. Ten blocks is absolutely ridiculous. It will probably take a long time for Bynum to ever put together another game like that, but his defensive effort can remain the same. Bynum altered numerous shots on the night. Shots he didn't block, he altered, which led to many misses in the paint and extra possessions for the Lakers. As a whole, the Lakers blocked 15 shots, and Andrew Bynum swatted 11% of the Nuggets shot attempts. The Lakers blocked a Nuggets shot one out of every six attempts. That is extraordinary. Defense like that wins championships.

The Lakers marketing team understands the goal of this postseason. Promoting, "One At A Time," the marketing department looks like it wanted to disassociate itself from the Phil Jackson era. Phil famously used to mark down "16" on the whiteboard in the Lakers locker room. With every win, Phil would knock down the number. Phil focused on the big picture, and thus he promoted that goal with the number sixteen as the Lakers sought to work it down all the way to zero, thus representing a championship. Last postseason, the Lakers played like they believed they would three-peat no matter what. They did not play effective basketball, or treat every possession as if it was the most important possession of the game. "One At A Time" is a fitting slogan for this team. One play, one bucket, one block, one pass, one steal, one rotation, one swing pass; they all add up to one win. If the Lakers play with the same mindset as they did against the Nuggets in game one, they will be poised for another deep postseason run. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, it's all about "One At A Time."

Andrew Bynum bought into the Mike Brown philosophy like Kobe used to do with Phil Jackson. In the early 2000's, once the playoffs started, Kobe always made a concerted effort to feed Shaq the ball. Kobe abandoned his propensity for playing one on one, or usually one on two basketball, and he fed Shaq the ball. The Lakers employed that philosophy for three straight championships. On Sunday, Andrew Bynum seemed to flip a switch just like Kobe used to do. Bynum played Mike Brown basketball. He controlled the paint, and in doing so, the Lakers controlled the tempo of the game. The Nuggets are the highest scoring team in the NBA, yet the Lakers held them to just 88 points. The Nuggets averaged 104.1 points per game in the regular season by employing a faster tempo, getting up numerous shots, and pushing in transition on every opportunity. The Lakers counteracted this by correctly spacing the floor on offense in order to prevent easy transition buckets, and by playing stifling defense. The rotations were solid, and Andrew Bynum protected the paint as if he would be docked ten million dollars every time someone scored from the inside. The Nuggets finished the game shooting just 35.6% and just 28.6% from downtown. Only three of their players managed to shoot 50%, as Gallinari shot 7-14 for 19 points, Faried shot 4-8 for 10 points, and Brewer shot 3-6 for 11 points. Afflalo, Lawson, and Harrington, all key cogs to the Nuggets, shot a combined 10-36 for just 27 points.

As the confetti poured down to end the game, I felt special. I witnessed history. I saw Andrew Bynum do something a Lakers player hasn't done in over 20 years. I saw Andrew Bynum record 10 blocks in a playoff game, another feat that hasn't happened in over 20 years. I also got to see Kobe Bryant provide a wonderful 31 point offensive performance, with 23 of those points in the second half to close out the game. I also saw the awesome versatility of Pau Gasol, who flirted with a triple double himself, dropping this line, 6-14, 1-2 from deep, for 13 points, along with 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks, and only 1 turnover. The big three of the Lakers each provided a memorable performance for the attending fans. As I made my way to exit Staples Center, fans began chanting "Denver sucks!" This went on for a good minute or so, and it boomed throughout. Denver is definitely an explosive team that is on the rise, but the way the Lakers manhandled them, it almost did seem like Denver sucked.

16 NBA Championships
This chant was then followed up by "Boston sucks!" Now that is an interesting chant. With Derrick Rose out due to a torn ACL, Boston should be able to beat Atlanta, beat Chicago, and then match up with Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. I know the mantra of "One At A Time," is the slogan for the time being, but I can't help but imagine "The Trilogy." Los Angeles vs Boston could very well happen this year and it would provide the most historically significant NBA finals possible, as LA would look to tie Boston at 17 championships apiece. However, that is a long ways away. Let's just stick with "Let's go Lakers," for the time being. Game 2 is Tuesday, let's see what adjustments George Karl makes for his team and how Mike Brown counteracts those adjustments.



Friday, April 27, 2012

Kobe Concedes Scoring Title, Lakers Lose to Kings (4.26.12)

Well it looks like Kobe truly didn't care about the scoring title. Kobe, along with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, sat out the final game of the season against the lowly Sacramento Kings.

Needing 38 points to surpass Kevin Durant in the scoring title, Kobe decided to rest up for Sunday's game one matchup against the Denver Nuggets. As much as I, along with many Lakers fans, wanted to see Kobe go for the scoring title, he probably did the right thing by sitting out and conceding the scoring title to Kevin Durant. The more rest on Kobe's legs, along with Drew and Pau, the better for a playoff push.

However, I must admit, I was disappointed to see Kobe sitting. Kobe is a supreme competitor, and it just seemed a bit odd to see him healthy and sitting on the bench. Kobe plays through just about everything, but rest prevailed over individual accolades. Michael Jordan has great stories of his over-competitive, even compulsive, desire to win. Such stories include an infamous quote from Michael's college roommate at North Carolina. Buzz Peterson stated, "Michael hates to lose. Play cards with him and you'll have to stay until he wins, even if it takes all night." Even crazier is the fact that Michael visited Buzz's home in North Carolina while they were still in college. Michael and Buzz's mother began playing a game of cards, and Michael actually attempted to cheat while the mother took a bathroom break. Such competitive drive is what made Michael Jordan so dominant. Do you think he would have sat out a meaningless game if he had the chance to get the scoring title? Michael always wanted to distance himself from everyone else in the NBA. He famously destroyed Clyde Drexler in the '92 finals after critics began talking up Clyde's abilities. Clyde was definitely the second best shooting guard in the 91-92 season, even making making All-NBA First Team, but Michael made sure to show just how big of a gap there was between first and second. Michael averaged 35.8 points along with 6.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game in their finals matchup. Drexler put up 24.8, 5.3, and 7.8. The Bulls won in six and no one dared mention Jordan and Drexler in the same sentence again.

While Kobe is a bit old to be involved in individual battles with his peers, it would have been great to see him stick it to Durant and take the scoring title. Kobe held it all year, until Durant swooped it in OKC's last three games of the season. As an intelligent basketball mind, I am not going to question Kobe's decision or his competitive desire, but I would have preferred a different outcome. If Kobe had played, it would have been funny to see him gun for 38 while flanked by the likes of Darius Morris, Christian Eyenga, Devin Ebanks, Jordan Hill, Andrew Goudelock, Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy, and the veterans, Blake and Sessions. Stu Lantz commented at the end of the third quarter, "I was so happy to see Kobe, you know, say he didn't wanna play tonight. I mean, you don't want to be chasing a scoring title. He understands that there's a much bigger prize than a scoring title." Stu followed that with this, "He could have gotten 40 tonight easy the way the Kings play defense." If the core guys had not decided to sit, I'm sure Kobe would have played and he would have went for it. Without Pau and Andrew out there, it just would have seemed selfish. Kobe touched on that aspect, as well as the team's goal for a championship, stating, "You have to send that message. That's what this season is about. That's what we're about as a team. It's not about the individual goals. You have to put the team goals ahead of it." Kobe understands the goal of the team, and if he ends up winning that sixth ring, no one will care about the fact that he missed out on the scoring title.

So with Kobe, Pau, and Andrew out, how was the game? Well, the Lakers lost 96-113, as DeMarcus Cousins came one rebound shy of a 20-20 game, dropping 23 points and grabbing 19 rebounds. The Lakers and Kings both had nothing to play for, but the game had some entertaining moments. The Lakers treated the game as a night to get Ramon Sessions back on track. Ramon has been in a mini slump in his past couple of games. In the first quarter, sideline reporter, Mike Trudell, reported, "Well I wanna talk about Ramon Sessions because it was a focus of Mike Brown to get him going a little bit before we get into the playoffs. You know, he hasn't scored in double digits other than just a ten point game against the Spurs on the road, and it's something that maybe has a little bit to do with aggressiveness." Sessions answered the request of the coaching staff, dropping 14 points on 6-13 shooting, with 4 assists, 3 rebounds, but also 3 turnovers. 14 points isn't much, but Sessions' efficiency was noteworthy, and Sessions attacked the basket hard on multiple occasions. Sessions gives the Lakers their first point guard since Nick Van Exel who can utilize screen and rolls to get in the lane and either kick out or attack the rim and finish strong. This component will be huge in the playoffs and an aggressive Sessions can be a big difference maker.

With nothing to play for, the game featured little defense, leading to some nice offensive plays. Josh McRoberts, in particular, pulled out some moves that he hasn't shown the LA fans all year. I watched Josh play in Indiana a couple times, and I've seen him play with versatility. Tonight, he pulled out the stops. In the first quarter, Sessions dribbled from the top to the near wing and sent a pass to the open McRoberts in the far corner. Josh caught the ball and confidently shot the open 3, swish. Two possessions later, Josh pulled down a rebound on the near side and decided to play point guard. Josh pulled off a nice crossover, dribbling between his legs from right to left. He then promptly pulled off a behind the back dribble to avoid Tyreke Evans, who went for the steal. Josh then pushed the ball up the middle of the court and sent a pass to an open Blake at the near side 3. Blake missed, but Josh's handle was impressive. Josh continued showing off his handle a couple of possessions later. Josh got another rebound and pushed the ball full court. As he got to the top of the 3, he began dribbling right to the far side of the lane. Then he pulled off a nice spin move back to the middle to avoid a reach in by Jason Thompson. After leaving Thompson, Josh kicked it to Troy Murphy in the far corner. Murphy missed the open jumper, robbing Josh of another potentially nice assist. In the third, Josh finally got an assist off of his stellar effort. He grabbed the board, went behind his back from right to left in order to avoid a steal, crossed through his legs from left to right to get back to the middle of the floor, and then sent a perfect bounce pass to Ramon Sessions at the near top 3 as the defense caved in on him. Ramon took one dribble to attack to the near elbow and shot a running floater. Ramon made the runner as he was fouled, and one. Josh's best play was the highlight of the night. Josh used his extraordinary hops to do his best Blake Griffin impersonation. Josh boarded an errant shot by Jimmer Fredette and sent the outlet to Steve Blake. Blake probed the lane from the near elbow to the far block. Blake noticed that Josh was trailing, so he lobbed the ball right to the rim. Josh took off and slammed home the two handed jam. Josh finished as the Lakers leading scorer, shooting 6-12, including 2-3 from downtown, for 16 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 turnovers in 38 minutes. As a Pacer, Josh shot 3's more often, and he showed against the Kings that he can knock them down. His versatility is impressive, and maybe next season we will see more of this type of play. Josh kind of reminds me of a poor man's Lamar Odom.

The other big man to have a nice game was Troy Murphy. Murphy was brought in to LA to hit open baseline jumpers and open mid wing jumpers off of either drive and kicks or pick and pops. He did just that, shooting 6-10 for 12 points, along with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover in 29 minutes. It was great to see Murphy hitting the open jumpers. Troy will be called upon sometime this postseason to hit a big shot, and he is more than capable of doing so. Don't be surprised if you see Murphy hit a big baseline jumper with 2 minutes to go in these upcoming playoffs. He may shoot the ball like a laser, but it somehow manages to go in.

Rounding out the Lakers were the nice efforts of Devin Ebanks and Christian Eyenga. Ebanks was solid, and he will be counted upon against the Nuggets. With Metta World Peace out due to suspension, and Matt Barnes hampered by a twisted ankle, Devin Ebanks will be called upon to stop one of the deepest teams at the small forward position. Denver employs the poor man's Dirk Nowitzki, Danilo Gallinari, a great big man shooter. They also have crafty scorers who can have big games with Al Harrington and Wilson Chandler. Ebanks defense is pretty solid, but if he is an offensive liability, the Lakers may have problems. Fortunately, Ebanks understands his strengths, namely, being a slasher. Ebanks finished 7-11 for 14 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block, and 2 turnovers. A majority of Ebanks' points came off of cuts to the rim. The newest Laker to be featured was Christian Eyenga. Christian probably won't get any minutes, but the Lakers may be forced to play him since he is a serviceable small forward. If Eyenga gets minutes, he will become a fan favorite in no time. The man has some hops. He had one great assault on the rim, as he curled up to the far mid wing, caught the ball and immediately attacked baseline. Eyenga exploded and threw down a nice one handed slam. Playing in his first game as a Laker, Eyenga may fulfill the empty void left by Shannon Brown as the team's newest leaper.

Andrew Goudelock also got some minutes. Goudelock started the season as the backup shooting guard, and he was great at getting off shots. His floater in the lane is only second to Tony Parker's. Unfortunately, Mike Brown started playing Matt Barnes at both the 2 and 3 in order to get Matt into a flow. As a capable scorer, Goudelock jacked up shots in his 25 minutes of burn. Although he shot 4-12, with many of those as one on one battles, Goudelock did knock down 3-5 from deep. His sharp shooting from deep may be useful at some point in the playoffs. Goudelock has been buried to the bench, but who knows how the rotation will shake out with Metta suspended.

As a whole, the game was pretty much a glorified exhibition match. However, the Lakers did introduce two new wrinkles in the final game of the season. For the first time all year, Mike Brown had the Lakers play some zone, both 2/3 and 3/2. Sometimes it worked and got the Kings to jack up contested jumpers from the wings, other times it led to defensive confusion and open drives to the rim. Terrence Williams had one such drive that will surely be on SportsCenter. A firm believer in man to man defense, Mike Brown decided to test out the zone in limited stretches. Coach Brown may choose to do this in spot situations in the playoffs. Maybe the zone will help to bait teams into forcing outside jumpers.

For the season, the Lakers finished 41-25. Pretty impressive in a season of transition. With a limited training camp, little practice time, and games almost every other day, the Lakers did well in Mike Brown's first season. Now let's see how they do in his first playoff run. The Lakers will play game one against the Nuggets on Sunday at 12:30 pacific. I will be attending this game, and I can't wait to see a home playoff victory, hopefully the first of many.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kobe Chasing History (4.25.12)

After Kevin Durant poured in an efficient 32 points against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night, Kobe Bryant now needs a big game against the Sacramento Kings in order to win his third scoring title.

Although Kobe won't admit that he's chasing the scoring title, anyone who has ever watched Kobe play knows that Mr. Bryant knows exactly how many points he will need in order to get the title. Kobe is an NBA history buff and he appreciates the numbers and history of the game. As it stands, that number is 38.

Kevin Durant provided some major intrigue regarding the scoring title in just this past week. Kobe held the title all season up until the end of the OKC game this past Sunday, the Lakers 65th game of the season. There are only 66 games this year! However, in OKC's 64th game of the season, Durant met Kobe in a classic double overtime thriller and he scored 35, utilizing a high volume of shots, with just 11 makes on 34 attempts. Durant's total put him ahead of Kobe by less than a tenth of a point. Durant followed up the Lakers game with 32 points apiece against the Kings and the Nuggets to close out his season. Durant sits exactly at 28.03 points per game.

This past Saturday, Kobe underplayed the significance of the scoring title, stating, "[It's] not very important, San Antonio was playing me single coverage yesterday, if it was important I would have gone for 50." I only believe about half of that statement. Yes, Kobe can drop 50 about anytime he wants, but the Spurs game was Kobe's first game back after a seven game layoff due to a shin injury. It was also the third meeting between the Lakers and the Spurs in a span of nine days. Kobe missed the first two games of the series due to his injury. At that point in the season, Kobe still led the league in points per game and it was more important for the team to find some success against the Spurs. Following Andrew Bynum's monster game one of the series, the Spurs blew out the Lakers in game two. That third game was more about finding cohesion, integrating Kobe back into the flow of the game, and trying to find some success after a disappointing game two. Unfortunately, the Lakers stunk up the joint with some horrible defense, and once again they were stomped, losing 97-121. Kobe attempted 12 shots in the game, hitting 7, for 18 points, and he only played 30 minutes. So for Kobe to provide that quote, it tends to ring a bit hollow in context to the situation at hand. As a whole, the Lakers were focused on winning against a likely foe in the playoffs.

Fast forward to this Thursday, and Kobe's previous understatement will probably be retracted. Kobe needs 38 points to become the second oldest scoring champion ever. In fact, only two previous players have won the scoring title past the age of 30, Jerry West at 31, and Michael Jordan at 32, 33, and 34. Not to knock Michael's performance, but he had a nice two years away from basketball to recharge his body and come back to dominate. Obviously, stepping away for two years and coming back to resume dominance is impressive, but Kobe will have the chance to do this in his sixteenth consecutive season. The grind of basketball is ridiculous, especially during this truncated season. At this point, Kobe has 58,706 minutes under his belt, including the playoffs. Basketball is a young man's game, but Kobe is still going strong. Kevin Durant has won the last two scoring titles, but I strongly believe that Kobe is going to gun for his third career scoring title. With all the talk of how Kobe was getting old following the Lakers' early dismissal from the playoffs last year, it would be impressive to see Kobe win the scoring title.

So the question becomes, will Kobe gun for it? Gunning for a scoring title, especially when Kobe is the guy doing it, will carry a negative stigma. Kobe has always been labeled as selfish, and this game could be another example for his detractors. However, gunning for a scoring title has always been a part of the game. "The Admiral," David Robinson, famously dropped 71 points against the Clippers in the final game of the 93-94 season to surpass Shaquille O'Neal for the scoring title. The closest scoring title ever occurred in the 77-78 season. David Thompson scored 73 points in the final game of the season to take the lead in the scoring race. 73 points! However, George "The Iceman" Gervin answered Thompson's 73 with 63 of his own. Gervin won the title, edging out Thompson, 27.21 to 27.15. Even more interesting is that both Gervin and Thompson's teams ended up losing their respective games.

Kobe has 38 or more seven times this season. Five of those games came early in the season as the Lakers struggled offensively while they adjusted to Mike Brown. Kobe dropped 40+ in four straight games from January 10th to January 14th, impressively doing so while playing four games in five nights. Since that span Kobe has only hit 38+ twice. However, one of those games came against his upcoming opponent. Kobe hung 38 on the Kings on March 2nd. Kobe's last explosion came against the Warriors as he hit 40 on April 1st.

I believe that Kobe should go out and take the scoring title. He held it all season and he deserves it. The Lakers have locked up the 3 seed and have nothing to lose. While resting Kobe may be a wise option, especially if the Lakers get stuck playing Saturday instead of Sunday, historical greatness should trump a little bit of rest. Kobe has only played two games since his injury, and accumulating a big point total would send a nice message to the league and forthcoming opponents. In terms of history, any elite stat that Kobe accumulates will enhance his legacy. Why not take a shot at enhancing his legacy? When it comes down to it, Kobe is going to be considered a top ten NBA player of all-time. Padding the resume to possibly catapult into the top five, top three, or even greatest of all-time stratosphere should not be taken lightly. The greats can only be nitpicked in terms of criticism, why not make it a little harder for critics to nitpick? Possibly even more impressive, in terms of the present day, Kobe can send a message to the young ballers out there that he is still a man to be reckoned with.

It wouldn't surprise me if Kobe came out and racked up 10 assists instead of forcing up jumpers. Kobe has had moments in his career where he has purposefully passed the ball, possibly even overpassed the ball. The Kings may double Kobe on every possession and make him hit the open man. Whatever the case, it will be exciting.

Go win that scoring title Kobe. You're not ready to pass the torch, and you know it. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

LA vs OKC, Instant Classic (4.22.12)

After a dismal defensive effort against the San Antonio Spurs this past Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers responded with high energy and playoff intensity against the high octane Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

The disappointment of the Spurs game was compounded by the fact that the Lakers had just lost to them by over 20 points just three days prior. After that game, Andrew Bynum seemed intent on providing a repeat performance of his capable dominance, vowing to "Come see them," the next time they played. However, in Kobe's first game back from his shin injury, the Lakers ended up losing 121-97. Kobe, Pau, and Drew shot a combined 16-31 for 46 points, however, the rest of the team shot 17-45. Despite the misfires from the role players, offense wasn't the true culprit in the game. The defensive performance of the Lakers was pathetic. Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili carved up the Lakers on 24-38 shooting for 61 points, and the Spurs team as a whole shot 61%, including 66.7% from downtown. The Lakers gave up easy points in bunches off of drive and kicks, pick and pops, and transition buckets. The Lakers gave up way too many points in three out of the four quarters, as the Spurs dropped, 32, 24, 35, and 30. The Lakers did not fare well against the properly spaced, highly functioning execution of the Spurs.

However, Sunday was different. The Lakers and Thunder squared off for an instant ESPN Classic with a thrilling double overtime game as the Lakers managed to overcome an 18 point deficit in the fourth quarter.

Ron Artest throws a vicious elbow.
(Courtesy ABC, NBA)
Unfortunately, before I can discuss the game, I must cover the Metta World Peace incident. Lately I have been praising Metta for his transformation back into Ron Artest. With Kobe out, Ron stepped his game up and looked like the guy from Indiana and Houston, a guy that was considered a top 5 two way player in the NBA due to his stalwart defense and effective offense. Lakers fans all over were infatuated with the resurgence of Ron Artest, however, on Sunday, Ron Artest really was back, and not in a positive way. Actually, scratch that, Artest was very positive, until 1:39 was left in the second quarter. Artest was 4-10 for 12 points, with 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 1 turnover, and some great defense on Kevin Durant. Prior to the Kobe-less stretch, this type of line could have been considered a great game for Metta World Peace, let alone a first half.

Then this happened.

Metta's dual nature, Ron, erupted from within and Ron lost his damn head by throwing one of the dirtiest elbows I have ever seen into the side of James Harden's head. Ron actually just made a great play, he pushed the ball in transition, attacked the middle of the floor, created space by bumping the lanky Durant in the lane, and finished with the thunderous lefty slam as Ibaka tried to swat his dunk. Then Ron spoiled the party, began pounding his chest as he headed back down the floor, bumped into Harden, who was just trying to get into position to receive the inbound pass, and absolutely clocked Harden with a full windup elbow to the side of the head. If that elbow had hit Harden in the temple, who knows if he would have ever gotten up. Ron then adopted a protective fighting stance as Ibaka rushed towards him. Luckily Ibaka was smart enough to stay away. For some reason the refs were pretty slow in going over to Ron and pulling him back; it was almost as if the refs wanted to see just how far Ron would take it. Ron then told his side of the story to the refs, but it was all for naught. The replays clearly show how dirty the play was. Personally, I don't think Artest meant to full on clock Harden. I think that Ron was just amped after a huge play, he bumped into Harden, and he had a "Get off me" type of moment. You know that moment, one where you don't want anyone touching you and you lash out. Unfortunately, Ron took it too far and he wound up a vicious elbow that could have been featured in the most recent UFC bout. Ron was immediately assessed a flagrant-2, ejected, and will definitely be suspended. It's hard to argue for less than five games, but I can't recall an elbow leading to more than 3 games, in fact, this clip of Arron Afflalo elbowing Gordon Hayward less than a month ago isn't too friendly either. Afflalo was ejected with a flagrant-2 and he was suspended just 1 game. Obviously Artest has an extensive history. With 13 suspensions under his belt, it's hard to argue on his behalf, however, Artest has been out of trouble for almost 5 years now. In 2007 he had a domestic dispute that led to a 7 game suspension, and just last season in the playoffs he was suspended 1 game after knocking J.J. Barea in the face. That's a pretty wide gap in-between incidents. Obviously a gap implies that there were incidents that actually occurred, but I hope the NBA tends to think of this as a driving record. After a certain amount of time, that speeding ticket doesn't matter on your points record anymore. Artest has truly had an amazing turnaround in his life, even winning the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award last season. Whatever the suspension, it will be costly to the Lakers in the playoffs. The resurgence of Artest has been an unexpected, effective surprise. Hopefully this detour leads back to the main highway and Artest will come back out on track.

Let's get back to the game. The Thunder and Lakers played a pretty even half, with OKC up 52-47. However, following Artest's knockout blow, one that ended up leaving Harden with a concussion, the Thunder came out in the third quarter and dominated. OKC won the quarter 25-14. It seemed like the Lakers were in a lull following the mayhem of the Artest debacle. The Thunder came out aggressive and took it to them.

Although Kobe shot just 2-7 in the first half, his defensive effort never waned. Kobe stuck Russell Westbrook, one of the most explosive players in the league, and made Westbrook look like the starting point guard of an Olympic qualifying team. Kobe went into Team USA mode and absolutely shut Westbrook down. Westbrook finished the game 3-22 for 14 points and 10 assists, with 8 of those points coming at the free throw line. Jeff Van Gundy commented early in the third, "Kobe Bryant has set a great tone defensively against Westbrook today, his energy and effort level, keeping the ball in front." Westbrook tends to blow by everyone, but Kobe made him ineffective on dribble penetration. The only moments Westbrook succeeded came off of picks that forced switches.

Despite Kobe's defensive success, the Lakers as a whole took a nosedive defensively in the third, most notably, Andrew Bynum. Bynum actually did a great job at the rim, with 5 blocked shots, but his pick and roll defense was horrid. In the third, the Thunder ran the pick and roll/pop to death, and Bynum got burned every time. Bynum failed to show hard on the picks, allowing Durant and Westbrook room to operate. Sometimes Durant would pull up for the open shot, other times he would use the space given to him to turn the jets on and finish at the rim. Westbrook picked up 4 of his 10 assists in the third quarter, mostly off of pick and roll kicks outs and dumpoffs in the lane. For whatever reason, Bynum just wasn't engaged in the game. He routinely let Perkins and Collison push him off the block, forcing Bynum to catch the ball in uncomfortable spots on the floor. Even more apparent was Bynum's lack of aggression. In his 29 minutes of play, Bynum shot 5-15 for 10 points. Many of those missed shots were timid fade aways. I cannot recall a game this season where Bynum shot so many fade aways. Bynum is usually very effective by taking two dribbles with his back to the basket and using a quick turnaround hook, either baseline for the bank or in the middle right at the rim. In the first quarter, Bynum actually shot two air ball turnaround jumpers from within 6ft of the rim. AIRBALLS. Bynum shot 5 fade aways in the game, made none. Bynum's buckets were all dunks, except for one free throw line jumper. It just wasn't his night. Mike Brown eventually benched Bynum for the entire fourth and both overtimes in favor of the seldom used Jordan Hill. Hill played with tons of energy and swung the momentum in the fourth quarter. Hill finished with a career high in rebounds, 15, and his Lakers season high in points, 14. Bynum later admitted after the game, "I didn't think I was posting up hard. They were fronting me and I was just kind of letting it happen. I wasn't being aggressive." Those comments explain Bynum's weak offensive output. Mike Brown commented on Bynum's weak defensive effort, "If we tell our bigs, whether it's Andrew or Pau or whoever, to be up on the floor, if you're not up the floor at the point of the screen and we're getting hurt [...] then somebody else is going to play. If we give our guys a coverage, then they've got to do it." Coach Brown inserted Jordan Hill and went with him the rest of the way despite his lack of familiarity with the offense. Although Hill clearly did not know exactly what he was doing on offensive possessions, his defensive effort and high energy on the glass epitomized exactly what Brown was looking for, effort.

Entering the fourth, the Lakers trailed 77-61. Mike Brown started Sessions, Blake, Ebanks, Hill, and Gasol. Van Gundy commented, "The lineup the Lakers have on the floor right now may not have ever played together this year." Van Gundy was right. Brown bucked his usual rotation and went with his gut. With 10:32 left, the deficit swelled to 17. Brown stuck with his gut. Ebanks scored 4 points and Pau had a tip in to make it 79-67 with 9:02 left. OKC quickly called timeout after Pau crashed the glass for a nice tip. The Lakers played with a ton of energy and the momentum was swinging their way. Kobe checked in a little bit earlier than usual at the 8:07 mark with the score at 81-67. The Lakers played steady but were barely chipping into the lead. Then Steve Blake turned into Derek Fisher and hit two huge 3's. Down 84-73 with 4:37 remaining, Pau corralled an offensive rebound and kicked out to Blake in the near corner. Blake swished the open 3 and the crowd roared as the score dipped below 10 for the first time since the start of the third. The next possession, Kobe caught the ball at the mid top key. He jabbed right multiple times and then attacked middle. He drew contact from Thabo Sefolosha as he got into the lane and he finished a runner just outside of the dotted line for the and one. Kobe sank the free throw as the crowd thunderously cheered, MVP. Following a Durant miss, the Lakers came down and Kobe caught the ball at the near mid wing. In an iso set, Kobe backed down and pulled off a "Dream Shake" as he rocked baseline and turned middle. Kobe elevated to shoot a fade jumper, but the top side defender decided to leave Blake and come double Kobe just as he elevated. In the air, Kobe put his full trust in Blake, kicked it out to him, and Blake sank the open 3 from the top. This is a shot that DFish has made thousands of times. It was nice to see Kobe trust someone who hasn't been by his side for 13 seasons. Blake's 3 made the score 87-82 with 3:19 to play. OKC came down and Durant missed a 3 from the near wing. The ball bounced off the near side of the rim and quickly sped towards the near sideline. Kobe and Ibaka then showed just how important the game was to both teams. With the ball racing out of bounds, both Kobe and Ibaka trailed the ball and ended up diving for it out of bounds. Kobe and Ibaka both crashed into the courtside fans. Fortunately, as Kobe dove in the air, he was able to tap the ball off of Ibaka's body, Lakers ball. Following an offensive board on the next possession, Kobe drove the lane and dumped the ball off to Pau right at the rim. Pau robbed Kobe of an assist, as he missed the easy layup, but Pau immediately went back up and tipped the ball in. Durant followed with another miss, and Kobe provided the highlight of the night. With 3 on the shot clock, Kobe caught the ball at the near wing. He quickly dribbled to the top 3 as Pau set a slight pick on the trailing Sefolosha. With just enough space, but not enough time to set up, Kobe shot a one foot running 3 at the top of the line. Thabo nearly swatted the shot from behind, but Kobe was able to pull off the crazy shot. The crowd erupted, and the Lakers took their first lead since they were up 12-13. Westbrook followed with an attack to the rim. Westbrook was fouled and he sank both of his free throws. Then Kobe hit an even bigger shot with less than a minute left. Kobe took a handoff from Pau at the far top 3. Kobe sized up Sefolosha, jabbed right, took a slight dribble to his left and swished the 3 right in Sefolosha's face. Once again, Westbrook got fouled on a layup and was able to sink his free throws to tie the game. Both Kobe and Durant missed eventual game winners in the final 30 seconds and the game headed to overtime.

The first overtime was pretty ugly. Both teams scored 6 points, and both teams couldn't seal the deal. However, Jordan Hill made a defensive play on the last play of the overtime that probably saved the game. With 2.3 left in the game, Westbrook inbounded the ball to Perkins at the near top key, Perk immediately handed off to Westbrook and set a pick on Kobe. Hill wisely switched off Perkins and contested Westbrook's floating 3 from the top. Hill's challenge saved the Lakers from giving up an open look. Who knows if Bynum would have put forth the same effort. Westbrook came up short as he shot the ball over Hill's outstretched arms.

In the second overtime, the Lakers went to work. With the score tied at 102 at the 2:20 mark, Kobe went into overdrive and finished off the Thunder. Kobe hounded Westbrook from the near wing to the far top of the key. Westbrook was unable to turn the corner on him, and Kobe forced him to dribble back out to about 35ft. Westbrook then attacked Kobe and pulled up for an errant 3 at the far top side. Westbrook bricked the contested shot, and Kobe came down and pulled off the "Dirk Shot." In an iso at the near top 3 side, Kobe attacked to his right and got to the mid block. At the mid block, Kobe decided to spin back and shoot a one foot fading jumper, the infamous "Dirk Shot." Kobe swished the 15ft jumper over the perfect defense of Thabo Sefolosha. After getting a stop, Kobe then caught the ball at the near mid wing with his back to the basket. In an iso situation, Kobe faced up and jabbed right while swinging the ball through from right to left. Thabo bit on the jab, figuring Kobe was going to attack baseline. Kobe promptly squared up his shoulders after the swing through and swished the 16ft jumper. The Lakers then got another stop, as Ebanks stole an errant lob pass headed to Durant in the lane from Westbrook off of a pick and roll. Ebanks sent the outlet to Kobe, and old man Kobe pushed the full length of the court. He got fouled on the layup, the crowd chanted MVP, and Kobe sank both of the free throws. This put the Lakers up 104-108 with :36 on the clock. Ebanks then stole another pass from Westbrook in the lane and he sank both of the free throws. Blake and Gasol hit some free throws and the Lakers closed out the victory 106-114.

Kobe and Coach Brown share looks of determination.
(Courtesy ABC, NBA)
As the game ended, it was evident that Kobe was impressed with the win. Kobe had a mini celebration with Gasol and Blake, and then he had a true man to man moment with Coach Mike Brown. The moment with Brown almost seemed like an "I got you," followed by Brown's, "That's the way to do it," moment. Kobe and Brown exchanged some hard looks of determination and they embraced with a firm handshake hug as Coach Brown whispered some words into Kobe's ear. The moment was palpable and the symbolism could elevate this Lakers team to even greater heights. Although Kobe shot rather poorly, 9-26 for 26 points, he came up big in the biggest spots. Add in his 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 steal and Kobe had a hell of a game, especially considering how much defensive effort he put into shutting down Westbrook. Pau flanked Kobe, shooting 7-18 for 20 points, 14 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, 1 block. Each had 3 turnovers, but considering they both played 49 minutes, they can be forgiven. The efforts of Jordan Hill and Steve Blake cannot not be overlooked as well. Blake went 4-9, 3-5 from 3, for 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Hill shot 6-11 for 14 points, 15 rebounds, 1 steal, and 3 blocks. Devin Ebanks also showed his defensive prowess in the absence of MWP. Ebanks played shutdown D on Durant all night, forcing Durant into a miserable 11-34 for 35 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, and 5 turnovers. Ebanks only shot 1-4, but he attacked the rim, getting 10 foul shot attempts, and finished with 8 points. Sometimes all it takes is energy to be productive. Skill always helps, but energy can make up for just about anything.

The Lakers played like a team poised for a deep run in the playoffs. However, a series win over OKC cannot be achieved without Andrew Bynum. Jordan Hill was great in his relief duty, but Bynum is the star. Maybe Bynum just got caught looking ahead to the playoffs. Whatever the case, I expect Bynum to come back strong. With an effective Bynum, and Kobe and Pau playing their tails off, the Lakers are dangerous. It looks like the seeding has shaken out so that LA-OKC will meet in the second round. If so, the ramifications of the Artest-Harden debacle could have a huge impact. Who knows how long Artest is going to be suspended, and who knows if Harden will be able to recover from the dangerous symptoms of a concussion. Despite it all, this season series has been full of physical, entertaining play. If this instant classic is any indication of the impending series, basketball fans everywhere will be rewarded with some of the highest play from some of the biggest stars in the NBA.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lakers Dominate the Warriors (4.18.12)

With the Golden State Warriors undermanned, undersized, and in full on tank mode, the Lakers made sure to work out the kinks in their offense.

The Warriors are a great JV matchup for the Los Angeles Lakers. About three weeks ago, the Warriors allowed Kobe to regain his shooting touch following an ugly 3-21 shooting performance. Kobe dropped 40 on 16-28 shooting that night against the Warriors. This time, the Warriors allowed the Lakers to reestablish their basic principles of offensive execution. After mightily struggling to effectively send entries into the post against the Spurs, the Lakers came out and treated this game as a run through practice for post entry execution.

The Lakers absolutely dominated on the inside, scoring 62 of their 99 points in the paint. Andrew Bynum was a beast, scoring 31 points on 12-14 shooting, with 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block. However, Bynum's 4 turnovers were, once again, a problem that needs to be resolved in the next three games before playoffs begin.

With all of the attention on Bynum this season, Pau Gasol showed to the rest of the league why he is the most versatile forward in the game. Pau dropped this line, 7-16 shooting for 22 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 blocks, and 0 turnovers. The offense ran through Pau for a majority of the game, and Pau did not disappoint. His perfect decision making was a sight to behold. His high low entries to Bynum were spot on. His over the shoulder no look passes to guys cutting in the lane led to numerous layups. His turnaround and spot up jumper were cash. Pau's hand prints were all over the game. At one point, after Pau performed a wonder baseline pivot to hit a diving Sessions right at the rim for a layup, Stu Lantz stated, "If you've got a better passing 7 footer in the league, I want to know who it is." Pau's basketball IQ is off the charts and nights like these show the world just how great of a basketball player he truly is. How many power forwards get triple doubles? David Lee (25pts, 11rebs, 10asts), Drew Gooden (15pts, 10rebs, 13asts), Joakim Noah (13pts, 13rebs, 10asts), and Serge Ibaka (14pts, 15rebs, 11blks) are the only other power forwards this season to get a triple double. Only Lee's night is even close to comparison. In fact, only 12 guys have gotten a triple double this season, and the only guy with more than 1 is Rajon Rondo with 6. Pau's performance was awesome, and it may have been the most impressive big man triple double of the season.

Following a disappointing loss to the Spurs, Mike Brown commented upon the spacing and execution necessary for effective post play in his post game press conference. The Lakers obviously listened up. The Lacking size, no David Lee or Andris Biedrins, and depth, no Stephen Curry or Nate Robinson, the Warriors were forced to employ a 2-3 zone for many stretches throughout the game. However, Coach Mark Jackson did not employ the zone until after Andrew Bynum killed his team in the first quarter. Bynum started the game hot, shooting 7-8 for 17 points. Bynum scored all of his buckets off of either isolation sets where he attacked quickly, or dunks at the rim for alley oops or putbacks. The Lakers came out ready to play, and they led 32-26 at the end of the first.

In the second quarter, the Warriors played much more zone. The Lakers continually burned the zone with good ball movement, proper spacing, and flashing to the open parts of the zone. The Lakers killed the zone with consecutive possessions late in the second quarter. Sessions held the ball at the top of the 3 and swung it to Pau at the far elbow. Pau was immediately doubled by Sessions man (the near high side man of the zone), so Pau swung the ball back to Sessions at the near wing. Sessions then swung the ball to Barnes at the far wing. With the zone moving from side to side, Metta World Peace cut from the near corner to the near elbow to flash into the open space. Barnes hit Metta at the near elbow, and Metta immediately caught the ball and looked to feed Bynum. Bynum established great position right under the rim by sealing the low middle man of the zone on his back. Metta sent the entry and Bynum caught the ball, turned to face the rim, and dunked it with two hands. Following that play, the Lakers ran another zone buster. Sessions was at the top of the 3, and he swung the ball to Barnes at the far wing. Barnes was immediately doubled by the far side high and low man of the zone. Barnes hit Bynum as he cut from the near elbow to the far block. Bynum caught the ball in good position, but his momentum took him out to the far mid block, so he gathered himself and turned middle. Bynum was immediately doubled by the high and low man on the far side of the zone. Bynum kicked the ball back to Barnes at the far wing. Barnes quickly skipped the ball across to Metta in the near corner. Metta pumped, causing the near side low man of the zone to rush past him. Metta passed up the open 3 and instead hit Pau at the near block. The low middle big man of the zone picked up Pau at the near block. With the low middle big, the only big on the floor for the Warriors, covering Pau, Pau looked over his shoulder and saw that Bynum had sealed the far side low man of the zone (6'6" Brandon Rush) on his backside right at the rim. With Bynum facing the rim, and the smaller Rush on his backside, Pau lobbed the ball right to the front of the rim. Bynum promptly went up and tapped the ball in as Rush pushed him under the basket. These two zone busters displayed high basketball IQ. Both times the Lakers attacked the zone to get looks right at the rim. With proper spacing, quick decision making, and creating mismatches, the Lakers capitalized with ease and perfection.

The third quarter included more of the same. This time Metta took his turn to dominate in the post. To start the quarter, Metta and Pau started at the top of the key as Sessions dribbled from the far wing to the nearside top 3. Metta set a pick on Sessions man at the top of the key and he cut to the far block. Sessions swung the ball to Pau at the near mid wing. Pau immediately caught the pass and looked for Metta. Metta perfectly sealed his man on his back at the far block. With no one in front of him and the rim, Metta caught the pass from Pau and went up for the uncontested layup. Stu Lantz loved the play and stated, "World Peace should give a clinic to the rest of his teammates on how to seal in the post. He will seal you so effectively." Maybe Metta can give a few pointers to Bynum if things get bogged down like that Spurs game. Metta picked up 4 assists in the quarter, with most of them coming from post passes. One beautiful set started with Sessions at the far wing. Sessions swung to Bynum at the far top of the key. Bynum swung to Ebanks at the near wing. As the ball moved to Ebanks, Pau flashed from the far block to the middle of the lane and Bynum performed a delayed dive to the rim from the far top of the key. Ebanks quickly sent the entry to Metta at the near block. Metta held the ball with his back to the basket and he noticed Bynum on wide open on the dive. With his back to the basket, Metta lobbed a pass over his shoulder and to the rim. Bynum easily caught the lob and dunked it for the alley oop. Pau also picked up 4 assists in the quarter, with one of them providing a highlight dunk for Devin Ebanks. With Pau in an iso at the far block, Ebanks simply curled from the near corner to the middle of the lane. Pau hit Ebanks in the lane, and Ebanks took off of one foot for the nice one handed jam. The Lakers outscored the Warriors 28-19 in the third quarter and pretty much sealed the deal, entering the fourth up 84-67.

The Lakers stretched the lead to 97-74 with 7:47 remaining. As the deeper end of the bench subbed in, the Warriors made the score respectable, losing, 99-87. Overall, the Lakers completely dominated on the inside. Drew, Pau, and Metta led the way with 31, 22, and 18. Their huge inside presence will be lethal once Kobe comes back to fill out the wing. Using the Warriors as a practice run should prove useful once the playoffs come around. Mike Brown has to be pleased with the offensive execution. It was great to see the Lakers come out and take care of business against an inferior team. All too often the Lakers seem to play down to their competition, creating far too many close games, and forcing Mike to play his core guys too many minutes. Against the Warriors, guys like Jordan Hill, Darius Morris, and Andrew Goudelock (an offensive threat who has surprisingly played a total of 4 minutes since 3/20) each received 4 minutes of run. It was nice to see the Lakers able to play the young guys at the end of the game. Every minute saved for the older, core guys, counts.

Great performance, now let's see how the Lakers come out and attack the Spurs on Friday.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spurs Decide the Outcome In Seven Minutes (4.17.12)

Well that got ugly really quickly.

With 6:43 left in the second quarter and the score tied 37-37, the San Antonio Spurs went on a 26-10 run that absolutely decided the outcome of the game. The Lakers never recovered and they ended up losing 112-91. That momentum going into halftime catapulted the Spurs to victory as the Lakers struggled to cut into the lead throughout the rest of the game. Although the Lakers kept playing hard, and had some mini spurts, they just couldn't slow down Tony Parker. Parker's night was sublime. He put his full offensive arsenal on display. He shot 14-20 for 29 points, and he dished out 13 assists. Parker was hot. He got to the rim, he pulled off ridiculous crossovers that left defenders frozen, he hit pull up jumpers, he hit jumpers off of curls, he delivered perfect passes off of pick and rolls, he drove and kicked out to open shooters, he pushed the ball up in transition, essentially, he showed why he is an MVP candidate this season. Parker also delivered the knock out punch during that deciding run, scoring 8 points and dishing out 3 assists that led to another 7 points. Contributing to 15 of the 26 points during that run, Parker pushed the tempo and got the Spurs easy buckets. It didn't help that the Lakers had 5 unforced turnovers in 6 possessions during that stretch.

Following his historic 30 rebound game just a week ago, Andrew Bynum seemed poised for another huge night. Bynum shot 6-9 for 13 points in the first quarter. However, Bynum only pulled down 1 rebound in that opening quarter. Bynum's offensive activity was nice, but his impact in the paint was sorely missed. The Spurs shot 59.5% for the game, and a number of those shots were right at the rim. After absolutely dominating the paint in their previous meeting, Andrew Bynum disappeared. After a hot opening quarter, Bynum only finished 8-16 for 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. Look at that final line; Bynum only shot 2-7 for the rest of the game. He also had no blocks or steals. His 2 official turnovers should also be upped to about 5.

Bynum struggled to dominate the paint. After seeing Bynum abuse Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair in the previous matchup, Gregg Popovich made a big adjustment. Coach Pop sat the undersized Blair for the entire game and gave his minutes to the 6'11" Tiago Splitter and the 6'9" Boris Diaw. These bigs helped to neutralize the impact of Bynum and Gasol. It didn't help that Bynum really struggled to maintain his position on the block. Tim Duncan did a magnificent job of slipping through Bynum and pushing him out past his comfort level on the block. On numerous occasions, Bynum failed to seal the defender on his back. Tim Duncan continually slipped through Bynum and would tip the entry pass for a steal. During that ugly second quarter stretch, Bynum was (unofficially) responsible for 2 of those 5 turnovers. Following a stretch that included Matt Barnes losing the ball out of bounds, Steve Blake throwing a bad pass that was stolen, Matt Barnes missing a 3 pointer, and Matt Barnes overthrowing an open Bynum on a lob, the score swelled to 53-41. The Lakers desperately needed a bucket to slow down the Spurs. So the Lakers tried to set up their focal point, a role usually reserved for Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol had his back to the basket at the far mid block. As he turned baseline he noticed Bynum flashing right under the rim. Pau threw a pass to Bynum, but Bynum failed to seal the 6'6" Gerald Green, allowing Green to cut in front of him and steal the ball. The pass may have been errant, but if Bynum had moved toward the ball and sealed his man, he would have had an easy dunk. The Spurs raced down and got an easy layup in transition. The Lakers then came down and tried to hit Bynum on a high low set. Pau caught a pass at the top of the key. He saw Bynum flash in the lane just outside the parabola in the lane. As Pau threw the entry, Bynum continued to slide across the lane and he faded back toward the rim as if he was a receiver trying to catch a curl and head upfield as soon as the ball got there. Tim Duncan easily stepped in front of Drew and stole the ball. The Spurs immediately came down and Duncan hit an open jumper off of a pick and pop with Parker. Bynum's failure to steady the ship during this stretch speaks volumes about the impact of Kobe Bryant. Kobe would not have allowed 5 turnovers in 6 possessions. Kobe would have at least gotten up a shot. Bynum's ascent to stardom still has a ways to go. His potential is massive, but he still has some learning to do in order to become a better leader.

Even with Bynum's struggles, the game may have been much different if Metta World Peace hadn't gotten in foul trouble. The teams were relatively even until Metta picked up his 3rd foul with just over 8 minutes left in the 2nd quarter. The Spurs then went on their run and blew the game open. Metta's veteran leadership was commented on by Mike Brown in the post game conference. Brown stated, "Metta picked up his third foul, and when Metta was out, I thought that we really lost control of the tempo of the game. I thought the tempo was in their favor. They sped us up and we did not look like we had, nor tried, to get control of the tempo. We'd come down and take a one pass 3, or a no pass 3. We just kind of got out of character a little bit of the way that we had been playing lately. It kind of reminded me of when we played Phoenix at Phoenix." As Brown noted, Metta's veteran leadership was a source of stability for the Lakers. Once Metta had to be subbed out, the Spurs turned every stop into a transition opportunity and they absolutely burned the Lakers. The reference to the Phoenix game is also notable. In that game, Michael Redd and Shannon Brown took turns killing the Lakers. In this game Parker lit up the Lakers in only 31 minutes of play.

Mike Brown also addressed the difficulty the Lakers had with their post entries. Brown stated, "They were three quartering the post, and we tried to feed the ball from the top of the floor. If somebody is in a three quarter, or a partial front, in the post, you know, we told our guys, 'Hey you gotta bring the ball at least free throw line extended, and not only that, we gotta get the strong corner filled. If you fill the corner and you got a guy on the wing, then throw that ball to the corner, now the defense has to go behind the post. He can't stay in the three quarter on the high side because that is just a lob to the rim for a layup.' We talked about it. We kept not filling the strong corner and we kept trying to feed the ball from too high out on the wing. They just tapped the ball away and would go get it." The inability of the Lakers to perform such a simple task as filling the strong side is disappointing. As Brown stated, if both the corner and wing is occupied, it is impossible for the defense to front the post because once the ball is swung, a lob to the rim is almost guaranteed. However, Brown surprisingly did not address Bynum's inability to seal his man. Although the Lakers failed to execute perfect passing angles, they were able to get decent entries into Bynum. Bynum failed to reward his teammates' trust in him by continually allowing his man to slide around him and steal the ball. Disappointed with the spacing and execution, it seems that Brown did not want to pile on Bynum. This is understandable and I'm sure these problems will be solved once they watch the game tape.

Speaking of video reviews, watch this interview Bynum gave after the game. Clearly agitated, Bynum looked like he just wanted to leave, and that's exactly what he did. Bynum cut the interview short and stated, "Ya let's go man," followed by a mumble that sounded like, "I don't need that." Bynum seemed pissed off and ready for another round. He will get his chance for revenge on Friday, stating, "They beat us like we stole something, so we gotta come see them next time we play." Hopefully Bynum's motivation lends itself to another dominant performance.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bynum Better Without Kobe? (4.16.12)

Since the Lakers have gone 4-1 with Kobe Bryant sitting on the bench due to a shin injury, many critics have pointed to Andrew Bynum's recent dominant performances as a product of a Kobe-less team. These critics have also implied that Bynum is playing well simply due to Kobe's subtraction. Bynum actually contributed to this narrative by bringing up his recent upward allocation of touches during an interview before the nationally televised game against the Mavericks on Sunday. While it does make sense for Bynum's offensive numbers to increase with Kobe Bryant on the bench, it doesn't necessarily mean that Bynum is more efficient. Bynum's activity level in the paint has been more impressive than the amount of shots he has been taking.

Andrew Bynum became the first player since Moses Malone in 1982 to follow a 30 rebound game by scoring over 30 points in the next game. This historical feat has not been accomplished in 30 years! Think about all of the great centers from the past 30 years; not one of them was able to do such a thing. Pretty impressive. But do you know why that stat is so impressive? Well it's not because of the 30 points, let's just get that out of the way. Walton, Abdul-Jabbar, Olajuwon, Ewing, Robinson, O'Neal; those guys were all great, and they could all score 30 anytime they wanted. The real impressive stat is the 30 rebound mark. Getting 30 rebounds in one game is all about effort. Bynum shot 7-20 against the Spurs, but he didn't let that impact his effort level on the boards. Bynum was 5-15 in the first half of that game, but he had 19 rebounds at the half. He actually had 1 more rebound than the entire Spurs team at the half. Bynum's offensive activity took a dive in the second half, as he shot 2-5, but Bynum still crashed the glass and pulled down another 11 rebounds. Bynum's 30 rebounds were 2 short of the entire output of the Spurs that night. Despite his offensive struggles, Bynum played hard and controlled the paint. Fast forward to the Nuggets game on Friday. Bynum followed up his historic rebounding night with this line, 11-19 for 30 points, with 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers. I don't want to sound too critical of a 30 point game, but Bynum should have had no problem getting a double double against the likes of an undersized Kenneth Faried, a stiff Timofey Mozgov, and the bonehead of all boneheads, JaVale McGee. For this being Bynum's best offensive game of the Kobe-less stretch, some things jump out. First is the number of turnovers. Those 4 turnovers are the highest Bynum accumulated in a single game during the 5 games without Kobe. Bynum clearly struggles against quick double teams. Bynum is much more effective when he is able to take two dribbles to set up his move and shoot in rhythm. When Bynum is doubled immediately, or just after one dribble, he tends to hold onto the ball too long and turn it over. Bynum still needs work on passing out of double teams quickly and easily. If Bynum really does want to be the featured offensive focal point, this will need to be improved dramatically. Those turnovers may not seem like a lot, but for a post player, someone who doesn't handle the ball too much, 4 turnovers is a lot. The next item that jumps out is the efficient use of the touches Bynum had against the Nuggets. Bynum took just 19 shots, and he efficiently made 11 of them. Bynum actually had more touches, as he attacked the rim and was fouled multiple times, making 8-11 free throws, his highest free throw output of the Kobe-less stretch. Throughout the Kobe-less stretch, this efficient game stood out as an exception rather than the norm. However, Bynum's 30 points put him in a place not seen in 30 years. His consecutive efforts were clearly impressive. Now that I've covered Bynum's spectacular nights that put him in the record books, it is time to look at the 5 game Kobe-less stretch as a whole.

ESPN and other networks have begun discussing if Andrew Bynum is being held back by Kobe Bryant. While the simple answer may be yes, especially considering Bynum's two excellent games, the more detailed answer is a resounding NO. This season, Andrew Bynum has averaged 18.6 points per game on .558% shooting, while averaging 13.3 shots per game. Pair that efficiency with his 12.2 rebounds and Bynum is an efficient double double machine. In the five games without Kobe, Bynum's activity has jumped through the roof. Bynum has averaged 22 points per game, but on just .411% shooting, with 21.4 shots per game. Bynum's assists, blocks, steals, and turnovers have remained relatively the same in this stretch when compared to the rest of the season, however, Bynum's rebounds have increased from 12.2 for the season to 16.6 during the stretch. Bynum's minutes have only increased by 2 when compared to the rest of the season. So what happened? Bynum scored 4 more points per game, but he took an extra 7 shots to get those 4 points. Bynum's efficiency on the offensive end plummeted by almost 15%. Bynum's plummet is not a byproduct of just one bad game either. Other than his 30 point game against the Nuggets, Bynum had not topped .412% shooting in any other game during this stretch. Here are his numbers for the last 5 games: 10-27, 7-17, 7-20, 11-19, 9-24. For a guy who doesn't shoot more than twice outside of 10ft per game, these numbers are pretty unbelievable. However, Bynum counteracted his offensive woes with these rebounding numbers: 18, 11, 30, 8, 16. So what gives? Does Andrew Bynum's activity level directly correlate to his offensive role on the team? If Bynum doesn't get the number of touches he desires, does that mean he won't crash the glass as hard? With such a small sample size, it is difficult to definitively come to an answer; however, it does seem like Bynum is more motivated to perform a complete game when he is more involved on the offensive end. This makes sense. Anyone who has ever played basketball understands that a player will probably try harder in all aspects of the game when he is happy with his role on the team. So the simple answer stands at a yes. Bynum is being held back by Kobe essentially because, with Kobe on the team, Bynum is relegated to a different role. However, is Bynum a better player without Kobe and should Kobe's presence effect Andrew's effort level?

Now there is a twist to the ESPN question. Yes, Andrew Bynum's outbursts are a byproduct of Kobe Bryant sitting on the bench. However, these outbursts have also highlighted an inefficient Andrew Bynum. Bynum's touches have gone up, but his efficiency has plummeted. Centers should never be volume scorers. It should not be difficult to shoot around 50% when the majority of your shots come from about 6ft. It is understandable for a perimeter player to be a volume scorer because perimeter players shoot a majority of their shots from a further distance. Steve Nash, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant are the only perimeter players shooting above 50% from the field this season. Out of the 19 guys shooting over 50% this season, 16 of them are big men. So for Andrew Bynum to be in such an offensive slump, it must have something to do with Kobe not playing. Spacing is a little more clogged. Doubles come more often. Kobe isn't there to shoot the bail out shots to beat the shot clock. Essentially, Bynum is asked to do more, and he is struggling, at least on the offensive end. However, Bynum has also increased his activity levels to offset his offensive struggles. By controlling the paint and pulling down over 16 boards a game, Bynum is limiting teams to one and done situations, and as a result, the Lakers are pulling out victories. Does Bynum's effort on the glass have anything to do with Kobe Bryant not playing? No.

So to finally answer the question posed by ESPN and the basketball community at large, Bynum is holding himself back. During this stretch, Bynum has relished his offensive opportunities, and he has rewarded the team with supreme effort. When Kobe comes back, will Andrew give the same type of effort once his touches drop back down? That question remains to be seen. Maybe this Kobe-less stretch will open Andrew's eyes and he will continue dominating the glass. I'm pretty sure Coach Kobe has loved the effort of his budding superstar. Kobe may even throw Andrew a bone and give him a couple more touches per game just to keep the big man satisfied. That may become the final solution. Kobe will shoot just a bit less, Andrew will shoot just a bit more, they both will attack with more efficiency, and Drew will continue with his stellar work on the glass. That situation is plausible, and it is an equation for success. Whatever happens, the Lakers are a scary team if Andrew Bynum controls the paint.

Essentially, Drew's effort level will be the biggest factor in the postseason for the Lakers. When Bynum is in beast mode, the Lakers win. Just look at the last five games. Other than the dreadful Phoenix game, when Shannon Brown and Michael Redd took turns annihilating the rim with swishes from all over the court, the Lakers defeated 3 playoff teams, knocking off the lowly Hornets, 93-91, destroying the Spurs, 98-84, defeating the Nuggets, 103-97, and pulling out the overtime victory over the Mavericks, 112-108. Bynum was efficient in just one out of the five games, yet the Lakers won four out of five. This can be explained by Bynum's ability to anchor the defense. Denver and San Antonio are rated #1 and #3 for the highest scoring teams in the league, yet the Lakers held them well below their averages. If Andrew can play with this level of intensity in the paint for the remainder of the year, the Lakers may raise their 17th championship banner and tie the Boston Celtics for the most championships in NBA history.

In a season full of historical accomplishments, tying the Celtics in the championship stratosphere and moving one step closer toward an all time historical franchise greatness would be the ultimate accomplishment. Bynum has pulled off historical feats just in the past week. Kobe is close to becoming the second oldest scoring champion in NBA history, and just the third guy over 30 to win the scoring title. David Stern vetoed the biggest Lakers acquisition since Shaq in 1996 with his too close for comfort hand in the New Orleans Hornets brass. Yet it would all be trumped with a championship. More than anything else, Bynum's effort level can take the Lakers there. Regardless of his offensive output, if Bynum owns the paint, the Lakers will be a contender that no one can match up with. Trust me, nobody wants to play against a team featuring Kobe Bryant on offense with an active Andrew Bynum controlling the paint.

Nobody.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bynum's Big Night (4.11.12)

Against the Spurs this past Wednesday night, Andrew Bynum joined some elite company in Lakers lore. Bynum joined Mikan, Chamberlain, Baylor, and Adbul-Jabbar as the only players in Lakers history to pull down at least 30 rebounds. That right there is some elite company. In 2010, Kevin Love pulled down 31 rebounds against the Knicks. Bynum and Love are the only players in the past 12 years to gather 30 rebounds. The Spurs as a team only pulled down 32 rebounds! Bynum's impact on the game was tangible and the Lakers dominated the Spurs for the 98-84 victory.

If you think 30 rebounds doesn't really have an effect on the game because rebounds aren't points, take a look at that score again. The Spurs only put up 84 points, and 25 of those came in the 4th quarter when the game was already decided. Bynum's dominance in the paint only allowed the Spurs to gather one offensive rebound the entire night. One! By continually forcing the Spurs into one and done offensive situations, the Lakers were able to play great defense and advance the ball up the court for extra offensive possessions. The Lakers pounded the Spurs on the offensive glass, corralling 16 offensive rebounds, with Bynum pulling down 8 of them. The Spurs may be a bit undersized, especially with Duncan playing center and Dejuan Blair at the power forward, but this team is fundamental. The Spurs are good for a reason. Popovich has them trained well and they consistently box out and play fundamental basketball. However, no amount of boxing out could stop Andrew Bynum from going into beast mode and gathering rebounds all night. Bynum's length allowed him to get his hands on the ball almost at will.

Even more interesting regarding the game was that Andrew Bynum didn't really have the greatest offensive performance. Bynum went 7-20 on the night for 16 points. Bynum just couldn't get the ball in the hole. Although he dominated the glass, Bynum couldn't finish in the paint. On multiple occasions Bynum would go up, miss, get his board, and miss again. Bynum also had 3 of his shots blocked right at the rim. Bynum seemed pretty upset with his performance after the game, stating, "I shot the ball like shit man." Yes, Andrew did shoot like shit, but he also took a positive step forward in his young career. Although Bynum wasn't rolling like he wanted offensively, he still made a huge impact on other areas of the game, notably the glass and his defensive presence. I almost expected Bynum to blow up and get a technical because of his frustration offensively, but he kept his cool and kept playing hard. By impacting the game on D and the boards, Bynum sealed the victory.

One other notable mention was the play of Ron Artest. Metta World Peace took a vacation and Ron Artest took his place. Ron Ron came out ballin! He shot 10-15 for 26 points, with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 rebounds, and just 1 turnover. He shot 5-8 from the land of plenty, continually hitting the open 3. Artest set his Lakers career high with his 26 points. He was aggressive all game and he looked like the Artest from his Indiana days. With Kobe out, and Drew and Pau shooting 16-44, Ron's performance was necessary. Bynum's 22 defensive rebounds allowed Artest to put up 15 good looks and score an efficient 26 points. This was by far Artest's best overall game of his Lakers career. His signature moment will always be that 3 pointer from game 7 against Boston, but tonight he showed a glimpse of his ability to take over. Artest was featured in the post on multiple occasions, and he made San Antonio pay, going 4-4 within 15ft. Artest actually started the game 2-4 for 6 points, with all of his shots coming from downtown. In the second, he went 1-3 for 3 points, shooting 1-2 from downtown. In the third he was featured in the post, shooting 5-6 for 11 points, with his only miss being a buzzer beating 3 from the far corner. Ron then went 2-3 for 6 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 2-2 from downtown. Ron's nice touch is a wonderful sight to see. When Artest is a viable scoring threat, the Lakers are much more difficult to stop. Usually, teams double Pau and Drew in the post using Ron's man. If Artest can hit open 3's on a consistent basis, the Lakers will be locks for the Western Conference Finals. I don't expect him to shoot a blistering .625 from 3, but a mid 30 to low 40 percentage would be dangerous for opposing teams. Sessions is top 5 in the NBA in 3 point percentage. No one is leaving Kobe. That leaves Artest as the only person in the starting five that can be left open to double the post. If Artest continues with some consistent shooting, teams may have to play single coverage on Pau and Drew. Let's see if Artest continues with this momentum and keeps showing up for the next couple games. Metta needs an extended vacation. Laker nation would be very happy to see Artest holding up another championship trophy and thanking his therapist.