Friday, May 29, 2009

Denver Game 5 thoughts

One of the all-time great Laker performances turned in by Lamar Odom, who is playing with a severely bruised back that has him playing at about 50%. That one will live in Laker lore forever, and will gain legendary status if they go on to to a championship.

First quarter:
* Two early miscommunications on defense, and Denver is off to an 8-2 lead.

* Kobe with a terrible giveaway that turns into a Denver layup. He just held the ball out exposed for what had to be 3-4 seconds before a grateful Jones took it away. He's also very passive early, taking two long jumpers (1/2).

* And no sooner do I say that than he shows some aggression, hitting Bynum for an easy bucket and then driving the lane to earn two free throws.

* Fish is 2/3, and an 8-0 run has LA up 14-11.

* Bynum picks up his 2nd at 4:32, and the beat goes on.

* Fish now 3/4, and it's 18-15.

* Denver has an 8-2 FT advantage, once again, and takes a 21-20 lead as a result.

* Billups picks up his 2nd foul at 2:23. Not as big of a problem for him as he is not asked to do a lot on D.

* 25 all at the quarter, each team having gone on one brief run.

Second quarter:
* K-Mart keeps hitting J's. He's an awful shooter so we need to keep daring him, but as we saw with Alston in the other series in a given game that can bite you.

* Denver's bench goes on a 4-0 run to put them up usual.

* Andersen hit with his 2nd at 10:10.

* Odom is taking it to the hole tonight! Great sign.

* Denver has an 18-12 rebounding edge, but it's 31-31.

* Luke with a spark: 4-3 and a block in 5 minutes.

* Good lord is Nene a great passer. Have to admit I never realized it, but he is one of the better passing big men I've ever seen.

* Denver has 7 turnovers, and Lamar has 6 and 4 as we lead 36-35.

* Fish now 3/5 and 2/2 from the line for 8 big points in a 38-37 game.

* Denver is 6/12 from the line in a 38-38 game. What is it with missed FT in this series?

* Drew has 9 in 13 minutes, and Kobe has 4 on 1/2 shooting; 40-38.

* Fish now 4/7 for 10 in a 42-42 game, but then he throws one away trying the long outlet after he stole the ball. 44-42 Denver.

* Billups picks up his 3rd, 2:36 left in the half.

* And Ariza picks up his 3rd 9 seconds later, off the ball on Nene.

* JR hits a 3 and Denver leads 49-44.

* Denver is 4/9 from 3, LA 0/7, giving the Thugs a 54-49 lead.

* A 4 point play: Pau gets an and-1, misses the FT but Lamar puts it back, cutting it to 54-53.

* Denver has 9 turnovers after another inbounds misadventure, Kleiza mishandling a pass and fumbling it out of bounds in the backcourt.

* Sasha hits a 3 at the buzzer to tie it at 56 at the half, the Lakers' first make in 8 tries from downtown.

Third quarter:
* Jones picks up his first foul at the 10:11 mark...of the third quarter! So much for them giving him extra scrutiny because of his dirty play in the last two games!

* K-Mart's jumper is unreal, that's 4 or 5 tonight after he hit a pair of them to put Denver up 67-62. Major, major fluke shooting.

* Nene picks up his 4th at 7:58. Now it's safe to run screen roll again.

* Denver gets a 4 point play of their own, as Bird hits a FT and Melo rebounds a miss and puts it back with the and-1; 71-64 Denver.

* And Bynum picks up his 4th, an offensive foul at 7:22. Our big man advantage lasted 36 seconds.

* Andersen has 4 blocks. Notable in a road game.

* Denver has 5 offensive boards this quarter, now 13-9 for the game, and it's 73-66. The one thing you think we would have cleaned up after the debacle in G4...

* A ShanWOW sighting, he makes an open layup off a cut and then puts a massive facial on Birdman in transition, and the lead is cut to 73-70.

* Denver now has 14 turnovers, including 3 in a row (Billups, Billups, Anthony). LO hits a 3 to tie the game at 73.

* Now a 4th in a row, Karl must be boiling.

* Billups hits a 3, but Kobe hits one right back to tie it at 76 at the end of 3. It has to be pretty rare that the game has been tied after all 3 quarters so far.

Fourth quarter:
* Odom gets an and-1 on another facial on the Birdman and the Lakers lead 81-76 It's Birdman Bukkake!

* Nene is hit with his 5th foul (offensive) and a technical.

* The Lakers lead the paint battle 46-28 and still lead 81-76.

* Lamar now has 16 and it's 83-76.

* Melo whacked Kobe in the face/neck area on the follow through to a hard foul. It being a Laker on the receiving end, it's not called flagrant, but it does lead to an 85-76 lead as the run reaches 21-5.

* Brown hits a jumper as the shot clock runs down; 87-76 and the run is 23-5 and 11-0 in the quarter as Denver has gone 11 possessions without scoring.

* A Kleiza 3 gets them back in at 89-81.

* Denver picks up their 4th team foul at 6:35, penalty the rest of the game.

* Kleiza scores on a driving layup to make it 91-83; he's keeping them in the game at this point.

* Denver has not scored in the paint since 5:11 in the third, a span of a quarter. (Carmelo would dink at 4:26 to end the dorught at 12:35).

* Kobe is keeping them in the game, he keeps giving the ball away - dribbling it off his or somebody else's feet, throwing it away, exposing the ball for an easy knock away. 2004 Finals Bad Kobe deja vu, but probably only temporary this time.

* Kleiza hits two FT and it's 91-85, and this game would definitely be over already if not for him.

* Nene fouls out at 4:02 on a flop. Sadly for him, he might have gotten the call had he not done the soccer dive.

* Big and-1 for Ariza; 96-89 with 3:38 to go.

* Lamar misses two free throws at 3:04, that will keep the game going longer than it should. But he does have a sterling 16 and 12 with 3 assists and 3 blocks line.

* Now he gets his 4th block, rejecting K-Mart.

* Lots of contact is being allowed on both ends late.

* Billups and JR each miss somewhat open 3's on back to back possessions, that may do it.

* But Fish airballs a wild 3 to beat the shot clock, and Melo makes a layin to cut it to 96-91, 1:24 left.

* Kobe goes up for a 3 but whips it to Lamar at the rim for an and-1. He makes the freebie, 99-91 with 1:02 to go and Lamar has 19-14 with 4 blocks, 3 helpers. Bloody brilliant.

* Kobe drives and is hacked with 43.1 to go, and makes them for a 101-91 lead.

* Bad play by Ariza, hacking Melo into an and-1 to cut it to 101-94 with 38.3 left. No need to foul there, if you're beat just concede the deuce.

* Fish fouled on the inbound and drains them, 103-94 with 37.3 to play.

* JR misses a 3 and that will do it. He does not break into a dance.

Just a brilliant defensive fourth quarter, along with Lamar's heroics that's what won this one.

Damn, Vanessa (Bryant) has a bag with Chanel in about 200 point font...does she have endorsements too?

The Lakers ended up 3/16 from 3, they can definitely pick up some points Friday there.

Denver won the rebounding battle, but only 43-42 after a big start.

The Lakers outscored them 54-36 in the paint, where grown men come to play basketball.

Led by Lamar, the Lakers won the bench battle 34-26. That's huge.

Kobe had an odd game, only 13 shots and 8 assists to 7 turnovers. Presumably he did not use as much energy as usual, and should have something in the tank for Game 6.

Yes, we are a great home team, but anything can happen in a Game 7. Better to try to get this thing done in Denver, but failing that it is nice to have the luxury of a Game 7 at Staples. Everybody pretty much expects us to lay down in Game 6 and Denver to roll, but I look for a good effort here in any case.

The extra rest would be nice too, this team is tired after playing basically every other day for 4 weeks.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Denver Game 4 thoughts

Pat Riley said it best back in the 80's: No rebounds, no rings. And that pretty much sums this one up, bench and officiating notwithstanding.

As Phil put in the postgame press conference, "I'm disappointed that we didn't compete tonight."

First quarter:
* Deja vu: the Lakers are 1/4 from the line.

* Offensive rebounds are hurting early: Denver has a 3-1 edge leading to 4-0 second chance points.

* Carmelo is 0/7.

* They are really letting them play early (talk about a change, they ended up with 84 combined FT!)

* Denver looks to have a lot more energy so far; 12-5 at the 5:31 mark.

* Ariza is hit with his second foul at 3:48, and it's helping on K-Mart of all things.

* Now Denver has missed 4 FT (6/10), but they lead 18-11.

* Melo now has 12 straight misses, including his last 4 from the last game.

* 2 on Walton now as well, at 1:44, and we are out of small forwards.

* A nice finish to the quarter gets us to within 22-19, but the 5-1 offensive rebounding advantage and the 12-6 FTA are bad signs.

Second quarter:
* An 8-0 run against the bench has again put us in a hole, 30-19 with 9:17 left. Andersen and Smith are the keys, and their bench killing ours has become a trend.

* Keliza gets into the act, hitting a 3 for a 35-22 lead. Poor D by Kobe, roaming away from Kleiza twice in a row to give him open for a layup and then an uncontested 3.

* Farmar is 1/4, really forcing some shots.

* Anthony rolled his ankle. Looks like he's okay a little later, but that had to scare them.

* Denver is outrebounding us 25-15. Effort/energy.

* Fish hits a 3 and is 2/4, grasping at anything now with all 3 of our lead guards sucking so bad; 42-32.

* JR has 9 and 3, and Denver leads 46-34. I have not seen him as much of a playmaker, but he's doing a nice job here.

* Denver's bench has outscored us 18-3 in a 46-36 game.

* Kone hits a 3 and we hang around; 46-39.

* K-Mart grabs Fish's arm instead of the ball and is awarded with a jump ball, but Fisher wins it in an act of karma.

* Denver has 9 offensive boards now; 48-42.

* A Melo dunk ends a streak of 14 straight misses, including 0/10 tonight.

* Denver now winning the rebound battle 30-18 and leading 50-43.

* 52-45 at the half, with the 32-20 rebounding edge and 20-3 bench edge meaning it could be much worse.

Third quarter:
* Denver has an 8-0 fast break points edge in taking a 56-48 lead.

* The Lakers cut it to 56-53, but Denver goes on a 6-0 run to take it right back to 62-53. And then 66-55 and 68-56. K-Mart had reached 11 and 10 when it was 64-55.

* It's 70-59 and Denver has a 14-5 advantage on the offensive glass and 39-23 overall.

* Kobe is PISSED since Jones got away with a cheap shot, leg whipping him as he turned to cut to the basket to send him sprawling. That should draw a suspension, since it was somebody other than Rajon Rondo doing the kicking (Update: amazingly, it did not draw a suspension, despite the universal opinion among the media that it was a cheap and dirty play).

* Gasol commits his 4th at 3:13. And apparently Ariza has 4, although I missed when he got it.

* Boards are now 44-26, 16 offensive; 74-61.

* JR hits a 3, 77-63. But Sasha, yes Sasha, hit sone right back to make it 77-66 end of 3.

Fourth quarter:
* Bynum hits a couple of quick 2's to cut the lead to 77-70, and he's looked pretty good on offense tonight. Maybe one of these games he will put the offense and defense together, it's been kind of alternating but that's the way it goes when you're rehabbing in the playoffs.

* Chauncey right back for an and-1 at the other end, 80-70. He rolled his ankle but seems to be ok.

* And now he hits a 3, 83-70.

* And Kleiza hits one, 89-73 and back to worse than where we started.

* The Lakers are 13/22 from the line. Down 89-74, some of those misses woudl be useful right about now.

* Sasha has hit rock bottom, missing a tech free throw. He's typically pushing 90% from the line, you know it's bad when he rims out one of those.

* Just like that he hits a 3, 89-79. Sadly, making two threes tonight makes this his best game in some time; his playoff PER is below 4!

* Ariza draws his fifth at 6:44. Tough call on whether to take him out, Phil does but he will probably be back soon.

* Birdman has 14 rebounds. Off the bench. 91-79.

* Bynum gets an undeserved flagrant 1 trying to strip Andersen. It looked like a hard foul live so I can see why they got sucked into the call originally, but repaly shows that it's barely even a foul - he grazed the headband on the way down to basically getting ball. I expect the league will rescind this one (they did). Next time he should go for a shove from behind or a leg whip, those seem to be ignored in game.

* 53-37 on the boards, 17 offensive, no shock that it's 102-88.

* K-Mart gets a tech for grabbing Pau's wrist area and basically putting him in an arm bar. Does this team watch game film or UFC?

* 36-17 bench points as it's 105-94. If it seems like I keep harping on the bench and rebounding it's because that is the story.

* JR hits two 3's to get him to 24 and get the garbage time score to 113-96. And does some kind of chicken dance on the way back after the second. Way to stay classy, Thugs.

The final numbers: 20-9 offensive rebounds and 58-40 overall. 42-24 bench points, and that includes some late garbage time, it probably wasn't really that close.

Also notable: Nene had his second 6 assist game of the series, that has to be pretty rare but I'm too lazy to look it up. And Nene (13), K-Mart (15) and Andersen (14) became the first trio of teammates to pull down 13+ boards in a playoff game since 1994, the unlikely troika of Karl Malone, Felton Spencer and...Tyrone Corbin?

You know the history on the importance of game 5's. We are tired and beat up (Odom is a shell of himself, and Ariza and Bynum are very much hampered) but this is about effort. Bring that on both ends, and especially on the boards, and we will be close to another Finals berth. Getting some of that mythical Laker officiating help would be useful as well, but let's not get carried away here.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Denver Game 3 thoughts

A championship performance that left both teams and their fans drained, let's get right to it.

First quarter:
* Fish drains a J on the first possession, good sign.

* But he misses two FT, very uncharacteristic even in a shooting slump.

* Bynum picks up his 2nd foul with 6:06 to go, and he was a force on defense too with 2 blocks and general paint chaos until then.

* Carmelo has 10 already, in a 14-13 game.

* Ugly...Trevor just gives the ball away on a 3 on 1 break, putting Melo on the line again.

* Lakers are 3/8 from the line, Denver 8/9. Missed FT have been deciding factors in each of the first two games, need to knock them down.

* Make that 4/10 to 11/13, and that's why they lead 28-26 at the quarter.

Second quarter:
* Denver goes on a 6-0 run against the bench; 34-26.

* The Lakers are 5/12 from the line.

* Andersen has 9 on 4/5 shooting as they lead 38-33.

* Kobe hits back to back layups on s secondary break and a reversed pick and roll to tie it 39-39. Great to see him attacking instead of being passive.

* Bynum picks up his third foul at 4:21. That one's on Pau as the 6'8" Kleiza was able to tip a rebound away from him to Nene, forcing Bynum to hack.

* Kleiza's starting off well again, 2 points and 2 offensive rebounds right after checking in.

* How many freaking uncalled goaltends are they going to get away with this series? Jesus...

* LA now 8/16 from the line, Denver 17/20. Those are 9 big points.

* Andersen has 13, and Denver leads 50-44. Last game it was Kleiza, this time it's Birdman, killing us off the bench.

* Kleiza gets a dunk off a jump ball 80 feet away, poor job by Ariza getting back there, inexcusable.

* Ariza hits a 3 and Kleiza gets a dumb tech to let us close to within 52-48 at the half. The missed free throws (8) and poor transition defense (15 fast break points for Denver) make that 4 point deficit look pretty good.

Third quarter:
* We get it tied 52-52 but they go on an 8-1 run to get it right back to 60-53. Always playing uphill tonight.

* Jones commits a clear flagrant foul on Kobe, a hard shove in the back while he's airborne (no flagrant called). This is at least as bad, and probably worse, than the foul Ariza committed on Rudy Fernandez earlier this year that was called a flagrant 2 and also caused a one game suspension.

They pretend that it's about the actual contact, but in reality it's about how the guy lands and whether he gets hurt on those kinds of plays. Nobody can reasonably argue that shoving from behind a guy who is extended trying to layup the ball is worse than hitting the ball itself, unless they are an irrational Portland fan.

* Ariza goes down on another push from behind, causing him to fall into and over Pau and hit the floor hard. This one not only doesn't merit a flagrant, it doesn't even get a foul call at all. I think they just did not see the push, not a bad call just a missed one.

* Wow, a loose ball results in Nene diving into the legs of Fisher and Pau and then jumping on top of Pau and...jump ball! And in the leadup to the jump, Fish and K-Mart get into a little shoving match for a double tech, but somehow only Fish is called.

To recap, that's two fouls on Denver and a double tech, and the result is a Denver free throw and possession. Unreal.

There have been a series of egregious calls in Denver's favor over the last few minutes, swinging probably 8 or 10 points their way that could really matter later.

* Nene picks up his 4th foul at 5:48.

* And Melo gets his 3rd and then his 4th at 5:01. Back to back, a defensive foul and a clear hook on the offensive end. They are tightening it up, tough for Denver who has been getting help all series and now has to adjust.

* Kobe with an and-1 to tie it at 64.

* Ariza heads to the locker room, hopefully he will return as we don't have a lot of wing depth.

* Our 11th missed free throw; now 17/28 and trailing 66-65, ouch.

* You can see how little confidence the guys have in Sasha's shot: he threw up a 2 from the left baseline and Kobe and Lamar almost knocked each other down going for the offensive board.

* Denver gets two offensive boards on a possession to take a 73-68 lead. Just working harder there.

* Sasha hits a 3 to cut it to 73-71. Pigs took flight.

* Billups hits a pullup 3 to make it 76-71. Big mistakje by Kobe there, you can't back off and play him for the drive when he's walking up to the 3 point line.

* JR hits a dagger 3 in Sasha's face at the bizzer to give them a 79-71 lead. He reacts like a sixth grader, screaming at Sasha for several seconds to draw a well-earned tech that will be shot to start the 4th.

Fourth quarter:
* Ariza is back, great news.

* Andersen has 15-7-2 on 6/8 shooting. As I said, Kleiza was the key to their G2 effort and Birdman is the same tonight.

* Farmar commits a stupid jump in the air and come down with the ball turnover and then gets a stupid tech. 80-74 Denver.

* Farmar turns it over on a second straight possession and gets a well-deserved seat on the bench.

* Nene is hit with his 5th foul at 8:54.

* Trevor's 3 gives us an 81-80 lead at 7:32. That's the first lead since 12-11.

* Melo splits two FT, his first second half point to tie it at 81 with 7:06 left. Credit Luke for a lot of that defense, Ariza was in the locker room for most of the third.

* A K-Mart tipin gives them an 85-83 lead.

* Ugh, a terrible play by Kobe, fouling Billups on a corner 3 for a 4 point play to make it 89-86. Just a killer to give up 4 points on a trip.

* Pau makes back to back TOUGH jumpers over Nene to give us a 90-89 lead. Grown ass man shots, those.

* Smith hits a jumper to put them up 91-90.

* Kobe gets an and-1 but misses the freebie; 92-91.

* Nene has hip checked Fish on 2-3 picks this quarter, Phil needs to get that to be a point of emphasis going forward.

* Ariza fouls Melo away from the play; he hits them both to put them back up 93-92.

* Nene draws a charge on Fish on a bang-bang play at 2:07, great play.

* K-Mart goes over Lamar's back after a missed Smith 3 attempt, probably not the shot they wanted. Lamar splits them, that's 13 missed FT in a 93-93 game with 1:46 left.

* Smith hits a nice free throw line jumper to put them up 95-93 with a minute and a half to play.

* Kobe hits a cold-blooded 3 over Smith's contact on...something, hand/ball/whatever, to put us up 96-95 with 1:09 to go. Amazing shot.

* K-Mart misses from close range and Pau pulls down a huge board in traffic. JR fouls Kobe at 38.3 and Kobe misses the second (14th missed FT), 97-95 as Denver takes a timeout at 37.1.

* K-Mart almost draws a five second call trying to inbound against the hydra defense of Lamar, causing him to take a timeout just in time.

* Oh my God! Odom causes another bad inbound, Ariza jumps it again, Melo fouls out grabbing Ariza from behind on what probably should have been a clear path foul.

He knocks them down, 99-95 with 36.5 to go.

* Odom fouls Billups at 24.6, no need to foul there up 4, let them score if they can. He cans them to close to 99-97.

* Kobe is fouled on the inbounds by K-Mart, he fouls out. Kobe makes them, 101-97 with 22.2 left.

* Billups panics a bit and launches a LONG contested 3 with 15 seconds left that catches nothing but air, Kobe is fouled on the rebound at 12.4. Not a good play there, they should be extending the game instead of trying last second style shots, and Chauncey is supposed to be the wily vet...not that time.

Kobe hits them, 103-97 and that will do it.

The Lakers outscored them 32-18 in a 4th quarter that saw Denver shoot 5/22.

Melo scored three points on 4 shots in the second half, no field goals.

Kobe was brilliant down the stretch; LeBron may be the best player in the world by a good margin but the old guy is still here and can still do it in a given game.

The Lakers shot 28 free throws to their 11 in the second half and 45-31 for the game, several of those were intentional late but it's nice that we finally got a fair shake in a game (albeit with some rough patches).

Both teams have to be drained; I hope we have enough in the tank to put up a good effort tonight as this is a golden opportunity to put them on the ropes.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Denver Game 2 thoughts

Well, that was a tough one, Denver stole that one in much the way that LA stole Game 1 I guess, with the added bonus of getting some help at a critical time. And now it's anybody's series.

First quarter:
* 3 turnovers in the first 3 1/2 minutes, lucky to be down only 6-4.

* Jones gets his second foul 4 1/2 minutes in. They seem to be calling it tighter early.

* And he gets his third at 6:49. And his fourth at 6:12. Some days fouls just find you, as Bynum can attest.

* A 6-2 advantage in second chance points leads to an 18-14 lead.

* K-Mart is keeping them in early, with 10 points including 4 dunks; 21-16.

* Melo is 1/5 with 2 turnovers early, as they trail 23-16. Ariza is doing a much better job tonight.

* 31-23 at the quarter, sounds familiar huh? Kobe has 14 on, and you have to like this, 7 shots (4 made) and 6 free throw attempts (all made).

Second quarter:
* Sasha is 0/4, and the beat goes on.

* Kleiza has hit two 3's, cutting it to 35-26.

* Smith picks up his third at the 8:29 mark.

* An Odom dunk makes it 37-26 and gives the Lakers a 24-10 edge in the paint. That's how you play the game.

* The bench is helping, led by Farmar's two nice assists to get it back to 41-27.

* Now 30-12 in the paint and 43-31 overall.

* Melo is heating up; four pretty quick hoops have cut the lead to 43-35.

* Fish with a beautiful half court pss to Bynum, who beat everybody downcourt for an and-1 dunk; 51-38.

* The Lakers are 1/6 from distance, one more reason to keep pounding it inside.

* Nene has loafed back a couple if times, that can't make Karl very happy.

* Kleiza's keeping them in here; his third 3 cuts the lead back to 53-45 and he now has 9 and 8 in the quarter.

* A Billups 3 cuts it to 53-48; that's an 8-0 run. We're erasing a great half of basketball with some poor defense late.

* And now Billups hits two free throws to make it 53-50 and extend the run to 10-0.

* And Kleiza makes it 12-0 and 53-52 with two more freebies; he has 11 and 8.

* You could see it coming: Billups throwing the ball into on the baseline and Kobe with his back turned to the play and nobody else close. Billups takes the easy pass off Kobe's back for the layup, that's just low basketball IQ by KB24. And that cuts the halftime lead to 55-54, another familiar score. We gave away that whole lead in about 3 minutes of stupid play.

Third quarter:
* Jones picks up his fifth at 10:36. He shoudl have stayed home.

* Denver has another free throw edge, 16-14. So much for home court advanatge, huh?

* A spectacular Ariza dunk makes him 5/5 and 14 points and gives us a 66-64 lead.

* K-Mart just laid out Ariza with a hard foul in retaliation for that dunk. Somehow it was not called flagrant, but it clearly was, a virtual grab of the arm and throw down without even pretending to make a basketball play.

* Ariza is now 6/6, 19 points.

* Fish has forced 2-3 shots in semi-transition, poor decisions there (in fairness, he was hacked one of them). Not surprisingly, Phil pulls him.

* Billups misses another free throw. Amazing.

* Say what? Kobe and Melo tie up, and instead of a jump ball it's called a foul on Kobe. Road court advantage. Denver leads 81-80 at the end of 3.

Fourth quarter:
* Kobe is tired, lazy D in fouling Billups leads to him sitting.

* Kleiza hits his fourth 3, giving him 16 and giving them an 85-82 lead.

* Denver stretches it to 89-84, leading to a timeout at 9:43. Have to be careful here.

* And now 91-84...danger, danger!

* Fouls are killing us again, Denver is in the penalty for any fouls after 8:11.

* Kobe and ShanWOW hit huge 3's to cut it to 91-90 just when we looked to be fading.

* Lamar with a putback to give the Lakers a 92-91 lead at 7:13.

* The Kobe-Emlo matchup, when they are on each other, is bad for us both ways, surprisingly.

* Brown hits 1 of 2 to make it 93-91, 5:47 to go.

* The Lakers have a 50-32 advantage in the paint but have somehow coupled that with a 29-27 free throw disadvantage, and it's now 93-93 with 5:36 to go.

* The Lakers get into the penalty, and Pau hits two to make it 95-93; 5:23 left.

* Nene picks up his fifth foul, but Lamar bricks them both! 95-95.

* And now Odom picks up his fifth, at 4:26. And Nene nails them both, 97-95 as Denver has hit 13 straight FT. Missed FT are killing the Lakers as they did Denver in G1.

* Again, a miss, Ariza splits two and it's 97-96 Denver.

* Melo just overpowers Ariza for an offensive board and putback to make it 99-96, 2:23 to go.

* Kobe rises up for a 3 over Melo, not a great shot but it goes, 99-99 with 1:59 left.

* Billups with a vet move, diving sideways into Pau to draw the foul, and it's 101-99 with 1:44 to go.

* Off a Denver turnover, Kobe gets hacked with 45.1 to play and makes them both, tied at 101.

* Better to be lucky than good: Billups drives OC into trouble in the baseline, throws it out blindly, Fish gets a hand on it but it goes right to a diving Nene who drops it off to K-Mart for the layin and a 103-101 lead with 29.6 to go. Billups was trying ot throw it to somebody to reset the play, Fisher makes the great defensive play, just awful luck there.

* Kobe dribbles it away, and Pau was not given the timeout he called after recovering it, instead it's a jump ball with Billups - 18.6 to go, 14 on the shot clock.

* Wow, that is a jump ball that will live in infamy, we got severely hosed there. First Smith ran through the jump circle while the ball was being thrown up and tipped, that's a violation by rule and it should be Lakers ball sideout with no time off the clock. And then, having blown that call, Ariza gets the tip and Melo shoves him down, causing him to lose the ball where CB picks it up. Those people who think the refs will help LA get into the Finals must be penning their mea culpas as we speak, huh?

* Billups hits them both, 105-101 with 13.7 to go. They foul Pau hard with 7.9 to go, not sure why as he could have gotten an and-1 but it works as he gets only the two FT to make it 105-103.

* Billups is fouled at 4.3, and he...misses one! 106-103 and the door is open even after the calls.

* We got the shot we wanted, instead of letting them foul Kobe we get it to Fish for the corner 3, but Nene makes a spectacular recovery to get out on him and force it to be overarched and short. He may even have blocked it, really tough to tell on replay but it was an amazing defensive play at any rate to rotate out that fast. Not sure if Fish had time to dribble and sidestep him or not, very close and it would have been risky, at some point you just have to tip your hat to them.

This one hurts for so many reasons - the game-deciding blown calls on the jump ball, the lax play that let them erase a big lead late in the second, and just the fact that Denver would have been in some trouble down 2-0. Now it sets up a huge third game, where the Lakers can take back control of the series or Denver can get a confidence-building win to take a lead and set up a must-win road game for the Lakers on Monday. Gut check time.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Denver Game 1 thoughts

An instant classic, and to gut out this crunch time win was huge both in terms of the series and the emotional state of the teams.

First quarter:
* An early surprise: Kobe is on Billups. I guess they don't want him to roam against this team, interesting.

* Really cold shooting to start.

* Another surprise, K-Mart is guarding Bynum with Nene matching up with Pau. That's much better for Denver than the converse, if they can avoid Bynum abusing them in the post. Which would require the Lakers actually throwing the ball to a big, so not much danger of that!

* Anthony is dominating: 5/6 for 11 points.

* Denver has three pick and roll dunks for the rolling big, poor rotations there.

* Carmelo now 6/7 to stretch the lead to 27-14 (he ended the quarter 7/8 for 16).

* Sasha hits a 3. That this is notable enough for a bullet point shows how far he has fallen.

* Billups came into the game 66/69 on playoff free throws, but just missed a pair.

* Denver ends the quarter up 31-23, frankly it could have been much worse so I'm not that unhappy with the score.

Second quarter:
* Denver is now 1/6 from the line.

* The defense is really picking up, cutting the lead to 35-32.

* Billups missed a third straight free throw before finally righting himself and hitting three in a row.

* Lamar picks up his third foul at the 4:43 mark, that hurts. And Denver now has a 14-7 free throw edge, exactly the opposite of what we were expecting.

* And now Bynum picks up his third, at 4:14. This is Bizzarro World officiating so far. Powell is in and will need to give us some good minutes.

* LA's bench has outscored Denver's 18-2 (the half ended 20-3). That is countering the fouls for the most part.

* Denver now 17-7 in free throws.

* Nene is killing Pau, in particular beating him downcourt, and is 6/7 (they shut that down, he ended the game 6/9).

* Fish is still shooting the ball poorly. We need him in this series.

* Powell provided the needed spark with 4 quick points.

* Denver's free throw advantage is now 21-10, and that includes one the Lakers got for a technical so it's really 21-9.

* Fish finally hits a 3, and it's a huge one, buzzer beater to give the Lakers a 55-54 lead at the break. Carmelo has 20 on 11 shots, and Kobe has 18 but on 16 shots, so big edge to their superstar.

Third quarter:
* Bynum picks up his fourth foul on the first defensive possession, 36 seconds in.

* Odom gets rung up for an 8 second violation after we are forced to re-inbound with only 3 seconds left. Somebody has to be letting him know there, and he shoudl also be aware, bad play all around.

* Fouls are killing us! Road court advantage.

* Ariza picks up his fourth at the 6:03 mark. Sun Yue might be playing before this thing is over, if they'll let him take the court wearing a tie.

* Carmelo has 30, including 4/4 from distance. Fluke shooting game.

* Payback: Nene picks up his fourth at the 5:53 mark. Sarcastic cheers from the crowd.

* Kobe just picked up his fifth technical of the playoffs, two from a one-game suspension. He's got to lay off the crybaby act. Unless he puts on a Tim Duncan jersey, in which case they would just ignore it.

* The Lakers finally pulled out to a 72-68 lead, but Denver answers with a 5-0 run to reclaim the lead.

* LA has a 14-4 offensive rebounding edge.

* Denver leads 76-74 at the end of 3, looks like this one might be decided late.

Fourth quarter:
* Denver extends their run to 13-4 to take an 81-76 lead. Need to keep in touch here.

* JR is getting hot, have to stay attached to him. 8 pretty quick points.

* The offensive execution is poor to start this quarter, not good timing.

* 89-82 and in some trouble. Denver has a 29-12 free throw advantage now.

* The Lakers are in the penalty with 6:16 to go.

* Kobe has switched onto Anthony but Melo's just too strong for him.

* So much for that small advantage; Denver is in the penalty 1:08 after we got there.

* 33-14 free throws now, ugh!

* Trevor hits a huge 3 to cut it to 84-82 with 4:16 to play.

* Melo gets a big putback for a 96-92 lead at 3:25. Trevor didn't box him out.

* After a Pau block, Fish hits a massive corner 3 to give the Lakers their first lead of the quarter, 97-96 at the 2:35 mark.

* After Pau draws a charge on Melo, he gets the ball and abuses K-Mart to draw the foul at 1:53. Oh no, he missed them both! Golden opportunity lost there...

* Chauncey hits the stepback 3 over Pau for a 99-97 lead at 1:38. That's just a player making a play, you tip your hat.

* Fish is fouled in the leg on a 3 he threw up to get the FT (and late in the shot clock) but they are not forthcoming, but Pau gets the offensive board and gets fouled with 1:14 left. And that's Nene's sixth, seeya Thursday. This time he knocks them down to tie the game at 99.

* Off an Andersen miss, a scrum results in a jump ball between Lamar and Birdman with 57.3 left and 7 on the shot clock. Odom wins the tip!

* Kobe misses but the rebound is tipped out of bounds by Denver, so we get a fresh clock with 35.5 left. Can we get a 2 for 1?

* We can! But only due to a really stupid foul by K-Mart, reaching on Kobe as he tries to double at 30.5. Kobe sinks them, 101-99. Watch Chauncey, he will pull up for 3 if he gets a chance!

* Ariza steals the inbounds pass! And dribbles downcourt, and gets it to Kobe, they don't have to foul but they do with 10 seconds left. The key to that play is Odom's length on the inbounder Carter, forcing him to lob the pass. Whcih Billups does not come hard to get, either, but Trevor jumped the play so well I'm not sure it would have mattered.

Kobe hits the 2, 103-99.

* Chauncey hits a stepback 3 fromt he left corner with 6.1 left and the game is back in play at 103-102. Replays show he was out of bounds and the shot should not have counted. Imagine a call going against the Lakers tonight, huh?

* We get the inbounds to Kobe, who is fouled at 5.8. He hits them, 105-102, and they are out of timeouts.

* The Lakers are set up to foul and Fish takes it on Smith at midcourt, 3.2 left. Smith will have to hope to miss one and get an offensive rebound, with no timeouts that is their only option.

He makes the first, 105-103.

And misses the second off the front iron, pretty good job but Kobe secures the ball and throws it downcourt as the clock expires.

Smith hurt his knee a bit going for the rebound, hard to tell if it's anything (Karl says in the press conference that it's a minor hyperextension).

From the boxscore:

The Lakers rebounded 17 of their 47 misses (36.2%), leading to a 22-10 advantage in second chance points.

Denver outshot the Lakers 48.6-41.1%, the third staright game that the shooting has been subpar against them. Getting the ball inside would help in that regard.

Denver won the paint, 46-40. That should not happen.

LA won the battle of the benches, 27-16.

LA hit 11/25 3's, a lot of attempts at a high percentage.

Kobe was good enough late to salvage 40 points on about 34 shots. Carmelo was utterly brilliant with 39 on about 23 shots.

K-Mart scored 15 on 7/14 shooting, but that's fool's gold, I'd be happy for him to keep taking 14 shots a game.

JR was 2/7 from the field and 2/6 from the line.

Fish's 13 and 6 was nice, but Pau has to get more than 9 shots.

And so we held serve and give them their first adversity of the playoffs. If we can get off to a good start tonight they might start to remember who the hell they are and let some doubt creep in. But if they get the game we are forced to go get one in their crazy gym and they have the upper hand. To say it's big would be an understatement.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The penultimate enemy…

…is those silly Denver Nuggets, or as they have become known in recent years, the Thuggets. They lead the league in tattoos and anti-social behavior. This is a team that has had no real success since their ABA days, in fact this is their first conference finals since 1985, a year we remember fondly.

This is also the first year they have gotten out of the first round in a long time, so they are understandably going nuts up there. And with good reason: this is a quality basketball team, or at least is has been since about the beginning of March. They are very athletic, have started to defend with vigor and play unselfish basketball, and have a huge home court advantage.

Some analysts are picking them to win the series, and pretty much everybody expects a long series, so don’t let that 10-1 head to head record over the last two years fool you, they are a much different team now. The Lakers need to bring the effort every game, not just when people are writing and saying bad things about them. In particular in game 1, as the short turnaround has left the Lakers with no time to prepare while the Nugs have been scouting and practicing for the Lakers for almost a week now.

Chauncey Billups runs the show, and he is a different style point guard than the previous two rounds. He is not looking to beat you with penetration, he is looking to take you to the blocks and punish you or beat you with outside shooting. You can’t go under the screen on him or he will burn you. Fisher is a good match for his strength, and Brown should get the backup minutes matched up with Billups as Farmar is not really strong enough to deal with him. Both need o make him pay if he tries to leave them to double Kobe or the bigs.

The wings present difficult matchups for each team. Dhanty Jones is a pretty good defender, but he’s a huge step down from what Kobe saw the last series and is not much of an offensive threat either which will allow Kobe to roam on defense as he so loves to do. Martin is a great defender who will guard Kobe in key stretches, especially late in games, but he can’t do it all game without getting into foul trouble, so they will just have to double Kobe at times and live with him scoring. Smith will also get turns on Kobe and occupy him on defense. A key will be how often Kobe can get to the line.

Similarly, Carmelo presents a huge challenge for the Lakers. Ariza will get first shot at him, and how well he is able to overcome his strength disadvantage will be key. Walton will also get some shots, trading quickness for strength and giving him another look. And Kobe will get shots at him late in games. He is going to get his, the key is to force him to shoot contested outside shots and keep him off the line, in short make him inefficient.

Ariza can also help out by trying to beat Carmelo down the court in transition, giving him something else to think about, and hitting some 3’s if Carmelo tries to help too much.

The frontcourt is where this will really get interesting, and it starts with Bynum. If he can be effective, Denver has serious matchup problems, if he is not things swing their way some.

Bynum is just too big for Nene, his length causing the Brazilian trouble on both ends. And it causes Martin to have to guard Pau, again a big length disadvantage. Nene matches up much better with Pau and KMart plays Odom well, so Bynum being able to give us good minutes and avoid foul trouble is vital, Denver has no answer for him. We have the personnel to get them in foul trouble up front, and how that plays out may be the biggest key to this series.

Their bench brings two guys who can have an impact: Smith and Anderson. Sasha will be important on JR; he can hit shots from anywhere, out to around 30 feet, you just have to stay attached to him and not let him get off as he is a very streaky player.
Birdman will do what he does, give lots of weak side help, block shots and get putbacks on the other end. He can be foul-prone, and while he has the tools to guard Pau the Spaniard should be able to induce him to commit some fouls. All of our frontcourt guys need to keep a body on him on the other end, he loves to come flying in for putback dunks.

Farmar should be able to have success against Carter in bench matchups, and Sasha could sure help out by hitting a shot every now and then. And Walton’s passing can help cut up their overplaying and overeager defense.

They are now a tough road team, we’re not talking Portland or Utah here where you can just show up and win your home games. They are 2-2 on the road in these playoffs but both losses were in the last possession and they also have a 58 point win to their credit.

And you can bet they will be looking to steal game 1 from a tired and unprepared Laker team. The effort and execution must be there from the opening tip. Beat them tonight and get a lead in game 2 and they might start to remember who they are, or have been. Let them win one and they keep their momentum and confidence.

And they will be very tough on their own court. They have yet to be challenged beyond mid fourth quarter in their home playoff games, and they love to feed on the crowd’s energy and the tin air to get out and run you. Taking care of the ball and executing will be vital in Denver.

The thing we really need to do here is get them to foul us. That will put their bigs in jeopardy and give us free throw advantages. Stay aggressive, take care of the rock, execute, make Billups/Carmelo/JR work and it’s another trip to the Finals.

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Houston Game 7 thoughts

It should never have come to this, and we'll see if this ultimately costs us a championship.

First quarter:
* On Kobe's second touch, he drives to the hole in the secondary break. Great sign, my worst fear for this game was him trying to be "aggressive."

* 3 steals in the first 2 1/2 minutes. NOt coincidentally, we are off to an 8-0 lead.

* Artest is 0/3 with 2 airballs. More Ron-Ron please!

* Bynum is coming up huge, rebounding and blocking and altering shots and generally turning them to much when they get near the basket (he ended with 2-5-2 in the quarter).

* Trevor hits his second early 3 for a 13-2 lead.

* Houston is 0/12 from the field.

* Fish hits back to back jumpers to make it 17-4. And he's turned Brooks into the Invisible Man.

* Bynum checks out and the D lets up. I'm shocked, shocked.

* 22-12 at the quarter. Considering the transition opportunities, pretty lame offense but the D is tremendous.

Second quarter:
* Hayes posts up, turns toward the middle, and reverse pivots to the baseline for a layup. One of the more shocking moves I've seen all year.

* Bynum continues to dominate the paint as the lead swells to 35-17.

* Bynum gets a phantom technical when he and Brooks bump into each other. Weak.

* Kobe drives twice in a row, one leads to a miss but Drew cleans it up and draws Battier's third foul at the 4:40 mark. Kobe is playing an intelligent game, my fears look to be unfounded.

* Pau with a putback dunk to stretch the lea to 43-24; he has 9 and 10 so far.

* Fish is just destroying Brooks, who is a nonentity on the offensive end.

* Houston ends the half on a 5-0 run to close it to 51-31, hopefully they will not be able to carry over that momentum.

Third quarter:
* Ariza is just playing a brilliant all-around game.

* Broken record, but Bynum continues to close down the paint for their offense.

* A quarter of very disjointed offense, but the defense is still there and we go to the fourth up 69-50.

Fourth quarter:
* ShanWOW's first appearance of the game; he's a victim today of Fish's brilliant defense and his own inability to check Lowry, who is now being matched with Farmar.

* At the 9:30 mark, we are outscoring them 40-20 in the paint. That's championship basketball.

* Sasha only scores on dunks these days!

* No sooner did I say that than he hit a 3 and a couple of other jumpers. Encouraging, but I need to see it for more than a few minutes of garbage time.

* The lead is 82-56 with 6:45 to go and this one is over.

And so we move on to face a rested and rolling Denver team. Game 1 will be huge as we have the 48 hour turnaround while they have been preparing for several days.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Houston Game 6 thoughts

You have to start asking the question whether this team has the heart to win a championship. Unless there is something going on behind the scenes that we do not see, there is no logical explanation for some of their performances in this series.

First quarter:
* Five turnovers in the first 3 1/2 minutes, leading to a 10-1 start for Houston.

* We are not going inside. Since that is what led to last game's blowout, you would think it might be worth a try, no?

* 5 1/2 minutes in and it's 17-1. Scola is dominating the entire Lakers front line, especially Pau, who seems particularly unengaged here.

* After 8 minutes of play the lead has swelled to 21-3. That's not great defense, but the problem here is clearly the offense. Just way, way too many jump shots, with Kobe, Fisher and Pau the primary culprits.

* Finally some recovery, but 27-15 at the quarter puts them in a big hole and has the crowd energized.

Second quarter:
* The defense, in particular activity with the hands, is picking up.

* Lowry is still abusing Brown, that just doesn't work for us.

* 20-8 points in the paint so far, unacceptable.

* We had cut the 18 point lead down to 8, but they have now stretched it back out to 42-25.

* Kobe just picked up a mystery technical, that would be his fifth of the playoffs with two more to go before a suspension if it stands (it did not, the league rescinded it).

* 3 fouls on Hayes, pound it inside!

* 52-36 at the half. Kobe has taken 16 shots. These two facts may be related.

Third quarter:
* A 9-0 start gets us back to within 52-45 pretty quickly.

* The run stretches to 16-2, and the Houston lead is now only 54-52.

* But Houston responds with an 8-2 run of their own, 62-54.

* At least Kobe is getting to the line some now, and he's 8/8 when he gets there.

* The quarter ends 74-65. We let a golden opportunity get away there, a little more and it could have mushroomed like Game 4 in Utah, but not to be.

Fourth quarter:
* Sasha was just benched, and deservedly so, for taking a quick 20 foot jumper off a curl. That's just not a smart play, even before you consider his massive slump.

* We are now 5/20 on 3's (it would end up 5/23).

* As much as Scola dominated early on, Landry has dominated the second half; he is now 6/6.

* And we had held Brooks pretty much in check until the late third and fourth, when he begun to torch Farmar and the help was not much, uhh, help.

* A 15 point quarter, and 28 points since closing to 52-54 midway through the third. This game was clearly about poor offense, and more decisionmaking than execution. You just have to attack the paint against this undersized team, firing up long jumpers is stupid, losing basketball.

And so it's on to a seventh game. This is a very tough opponent, but there is no excuse for it betting this far, and even if it's won as expected this has greatly diminished this team's chances in the next series against Denver, much less a FInals against Cleveland. They had better rediscover that fire inside, and not just for 24-48 minutes at a time either.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Houston Game 5 thoughts

What a difference a little bit of effort makes, huh?

First quarter:
* Odom is on the active roster but not starting and they are saying he is doubtful. With Bynum now starting next to Gasol we must pound them inside and make them pay for their undersized front line.

* Kobe has made three awful plays in the first 2:23; I hope he isn’t going to try to take over” as that is usually good news for the opponent.

* Scola got away with a big push on an offensive rebound against Pau, that is big as it would have been his second.

* Houston commits their fourth team foul at the 7:05 mark, hopefully we can turn that into some free throws.

* Hayes commits his second at 6:35; there goes their best post defender.

* Without Yao, there is absolutely no reason for Kobe to ever roam off of Battier and give him an open 3, come on play smart!

* Finally we put Fish into the post against Brooks. It did not result in a basket that trip due to the missed chippie, but it will…more please!

* Lamar comes into the game at 4:22! I’m not sure how much he can give us, but the inspiration alone is worth something.

* Kobe is driving a lot tonight. More please!

A lot of games, for example Game 2 of this series, Kobe will come out taking a lot of shots and the announcers and analysts will say that he is “being aggressive.” BS; there is nothing aggressive about taking long jumpers, especially when you take a lot of them. The long jumper is the antithesis of aggressive play; it’s hard to imagine anything more passive, more submissive, on the offensive end.

Taking the ball to the hole, over and over, THAT is aggressiveness. And, for the first time in a long time, certainly the first time in these playoffs, Kobe is being aggressive this game.

* Lamar makes a 3! I normally don’t like him taking them, but he may not be up to a lot of banging tonight and that will draw out a big…27-20.

* Unbelievably active hands on defense tonight, as well as moving feet.

* A 20-4 run has put us up 32-22.

* And Farmar hits a long 3 at the buzzer to make the run 23-6 and the score 35-24. 11-2 in fast break points, and as the TNT guys have been pointing out we have scored 30+ in the wins and <20 in the losses in first quarters this series.

Second quarter:
* They have Cook and Barry in the lineup together. That could lead to some ugly defense.

* The TNT guys say we have 4 offensive rebounds to their 2 defensive boards over the first 15 minutes. Since there are 9 missed shots I’m not sure I buy that but at any rate it speaks to the effort here.

* Now up to 19 fast break points, and pulling away.

* The run is now 52-17 and the score is 64-35. Trying really helps!

* Houston is 4/22 in the quarter as we near halftime.

* 64-39 at the half, after scoring 54 in three quarters in Sunday.

Third quarter:
* Finally Fish posts Brooks again: the double comes and he funds Drew for an and-1.

* Brooks got cross-matched with Kobe twice and blew by him for layups. At least our much-maligned points usually funnel him to the help.

* Wow, Bynum just got an offensive rebound and putback and-1 with Artest hanging on his right arm – he went through Ron-Ron like he was paper mache.

* Hayes picks up his 4th at the 8:02 mark, here comes more post domination.

* And so it is, and not just on the offensive end, Pau and Drew are dominating the paint on both ends. We’re seeing a lot of those alligator arm shots from Houston players in the lane when they go in on Bynum, the kind we’ve grown so used to when he’s healthy, so this is a great sign.

* Cook drew a charge on Kobe; wonder how many times that happened in practice back in the day?

* Houston has missed their last 10 threes.

* Even Ariza on Artest is not looking like such a mismatch tonight, a product of better help and more Bynum.

* Oh no he didn’t!

After a sideline interview with Kyra Sedgewick and Kevin Bacon in which they, to be kind, did not sound like NBA experts, Kevin Harlan returns to the action with “Avid readers of John Hollinger, obviously.”


* You know the offense is going well when Battier leaves Kobe to help, Kobe camps all alone at the 3 point line, and nobody even looks his way because they don’t need to.

* And at the end of 3…94-54!

Fourth quarter:
* Lots of garbage time and iced knees. It ends 118-78, the deep bench playing them even.

Of course this means nothing if we don’t come back and play hard on Thursday in Houston. Have they finally learned their lesson?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Houston Game 4 thoughts

Anybody who has been paying attention all year knew what was coming, the supreme lack of effort that would be on display in this game after it was announced that Yao was out for the playoffs. And it's not like it is only this year, this went on with the Shaq and Magic teams as well, although this one gives the worst of those a serious run for their money.

Two plays symbolize the Lakers' approach to this game:

1) the first possession of the game, when Ariza is stripped and halfheartedly takes a step or two towards the ball, before suddenly seeming to realize that maybe it could be out on him and making a belated lunge to grab the ball and flip it backwards to Artest for a turnover and breakaway layup to make it 2-0; and

2) With 0.7 seconds to go in the third quarter and the Rockets inbounding from behind halfcourt, Farmar could not be bothered to even wander within 20 feet of his man, Brooks, who just ran to the front of the rim to take an uncontested 50 foot lob and lay it in to make it 83-54.

I could put forth the effort to type up the notes I made during the game, but if they didn't care why should I?

I'll leave the last word to Kelly Dwyer:

When you don't respect your opponent, I don't care how talented you are, you're going to be in trouble. You might not lose, but you'll dig yourself a hole that'll eventually be pretty hard to climb out of.

And when you don't respect the game, well, the same thing is going to happen. And I don't care how much the Lakers talked up not wanting to let down its guard against the Yao-less Rockets, or how much they respect what Houston brings to the table, the proof is in the play.

And the Lakers just couldn't be bothered on Sunday.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Houston Game 3 thoughts

This was a very satisfying win, as the Lakers responded to their first real adversity of the season with a championship performance. But the joy lasted less than 24 hours, as the news broke last night that Yao has a broken foot and will miss the rest of the playoffs. Even when it helps make your road easier, you never want to see the game’s best players unable to play on the biggest stage. And this guy is not only a great player but a true warrior – he played the last 2+ quarters of Game 3 on that broken foot, limping but still contributing even late in the game.

First quarter:
* Jordan gets the start for Fisher. Probably a good call given his tenure with the team.

* In a surprise, they are letting them play early. I had expected it to be called tightly after the incidents in Game 2.

* Houston is not respecting Farmar early, leaving us playing 4 on 5 on offense. He needs to make them pay.

* And so he has, with a couple of assists and…you’re probably not going to believe this but…no turnovers!

* Yao is hot early, in fact both teams executed very well and the Lakers lead 30-28 after 1.

Second quarter:
* Sasha continues to miss. He just has to hit some shots to stay in the rotation.

* Luke needs to hit some shots too, on a lesser scale.

* Bynum is helping a lot, he looks much better tonight.

* Luke gets a dumb tech for kicking the ball after the play was over. Lightly, but given the atmosphere you just can’t do those things tonight.

* They get into the penalty with 5:46 to go, hope they don’t get too many free points out of that (they got 5, on 6 attempts, not good).

* The Lakers have been whistled for 11 fouls so far to Houston’s 3.

* And now Lamar has his third.

* They had a 13-2 advantage in free throws attempted until Ariza just split two (the half would end 15-6).

* Luke hits a 2 followed by a 3 on consecutive possessions late in the quarter; huge.

* 50-48 at the half with Pau only putting up 4 and 3 and the free throw disparity, I can’t complain.

Third quarter:
* Kobe finally gets to the line on the first possession of the half.

* Lamar and Trevor hit 3’s to stretch it out a bit, 60-52. We are 6/12 from distance tonight, after the struggles of the first two games.

* Kobe blocked Yao’s shot!

* Ron-ball has made an appearance, as we have been hoping all series. Three times in a short run.

* We need to involve Yao in pick and rolls more, it gets him on the move and opens up the lane, win-win.

* We had a lot of chances to really open this thing up this quarter but did not get it done as both teams went through droughts.

* More Ron-ball, a fourth-fifth(offensive foul)-sixth and seventh times as the quarter wound down. He is 1/6 from 3, most of them not close.

* Kobe hits a 35 footer at the buzzer for a 12 point lead.

Fourth quarter:
* Houston is going small to try to scramble their way back in.

* Sasha makes a 3! And as a team we are 9/17, compared to 8/35 in the first two.

* Wafer makes a pump fake, gets Sasha in the air, and jumps hard left into his ribs. That should be an offensive foul, and they had to look at the video to check whether it was flagrant on Sasha. They had to be embarrassed at calling the defensive foul there after seeing that replay.

* Bynum is looking great – moving well and being a force on D, setting solid screens, and rolling to the basket with authority (even if they don’t find him much yet). Very encouraging.

* Kobe is just getting hammered on some of his drives, but he’s got to keep trying, they’ll put him on the line eventually…I think.

* Artest checks back in and throws up an airball 3.

* Lowry seems to be getting the crunchtime work over Brooks tonight. After Brooks dominated us in Game 1, Fisher dominated him right back in Game 2 and Farmar has carried that on tonight.

* Kobe cannot start jacking 20 footers here, let’s hope that was an aberration.

* Crucial Ron-ball, he gets an offensive rebound and immediately backs out to shoot a quick 3, keeping us ahead 92-84.

* Yao is really limping badly now, it seems to be progressing whatever he did. Knee, ankle? He runs on it like an ankle, but not sure, but they’re not getting this warrior out of this game. (It turned out to be the aforementioned hairline fracture in his foot).

* Gasol draws attention underneath and kicks out to Kobe for an open 3 at the shot clock, 95-84 with 2:21 left and probably game over.

* Man, Yao is one tough m-f-er.

* Artest gets a flagrant 2/ejection for fouling Pau hard from behind on a breakaway late. It looked like an F1 live and on replay it looks like maybe it shouldn’t even be flagrant, Ron is a victim of his own violent past and the earlier rough stuff in this series there.

Then again, it’s no different than the foul that Ariza put on Rudy Fernandez earlier in the year, but since he landed more awkwardly than Pau and got hurt Ariza’s F2 stood and they added a one game suspension. They judge those things by how the guy lands as much or more than the actual foul.

I’ll tell you one thing: if that’s a flagrant, how many flagrants has Shaq taken over the years? Whacking him hard on the head on follow through, or just whacking him on the head being the foul itself, happened several times a game, hundreds of times a year, for pretty much his whole career. I’ll bet he still absorbs 2-3 fouls a game that would be flagrant if they were whacking somebody else.

We ended up with no turnovers in the fourth and only 6 for the game, to their 19. And we shot 11/20 from 3. There’s you ballgame, and if we can come back with a strong effort on Sunday, your series.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Houston game 2 thoughts

Well, that was one for the ages, wasn’t it?

First quarter:
* Odom is back in the starting lineup for Bynum, I’m guessing this is to try to push pace and keep Bynum from early foul trouble.

* 8/10 as a team early, lots of effort on defense and pushing off of rebounds.

* Kobe is 5/6, but just made a major defensive gaffe in leaving Battier and giving him an open 3.

* Fisher is off to a 2/2 start and is forcing Brooks into trouble on the other end.

* Pau is using quick moves nicely against Yao, forcing him into 2 early fouls.

* Artest has hit two 3’s already, he’s on a fluke shooting run.

* The 33-18 start looked like fool’s gold, too many jumpers, and sure enough it’s now 33-25.

* Farmar, Walton and Powell are first off the bench tonight.

* A 39 point first quarter, some in transition but too much of it out of the offense so not sure it’s sustainable.

Second quarter:
* Wafer is off to a hot start, 7 early points off the bench.

* Houston is 3/4 on 3’s so far, bad luck there.

* The Lakers had 11 fast break points in the first (but would stay stuck there for two quarters or so).

* Sasha with the airball, he has just completely lost his stroke.

* Brown can’t handle Lowry again, that just looks like a bad matchup now.

* Houston has succeeded in making these games more mud wrestling than basketball.

* Yao threw a forearm at Fisher and Fish got rung up for the foul, that would have been Yao’s third damnit.

* But now Yao picks up his third off an offensive rebound and clearout, with more than half of the quarter to go.

* We are now helping Ariza with Artest, that is another mismatch that is proving to be a big problem, he’s just not strong enough to bother Ron-Ron.

* A 10-0 run gives Houston their first lead at 49-48, as they are 24-9 for the quarter and 9-0 in free throws attempted.

* Landry is just killing us (he ended up with 16 in the half).

* It’s now 13-0 free throws for Houston this quarter.

* But Lamar splits two freebies to keep it from being a shutout quarter at the line.

* Houston is on a 39-20 run since we led 33-18, and are now up 57-53.

* We have only 7 bench points, and they were +13 without Yao, their bench is killing ours.

* The good news: Artest has 17, which will encourage him to keep shooting. The bad news: Kobe has taken 15 shots, if he takes 15 more we will lose. 57-57 at the half.

Third quarter:
* Fish makes a 3, and is now 4/5 overall along with shutting down Brooks – great game.

* I hate to keep repeating, but Ariza is overmatched.

* Wow, Scola went over Odom’s back to get an offensive rebound then cleared out Pau with his left arm to get a shot off with no calls; at least he missed the chippie.

* Yao picks up his fourth foul with 7:02 in the 3rd. Is he tired? He has only one field goal attempt too, even with defensive changes that is amazing.

* Bad Ronball, but he makes the 3. He is really having a fluke shooting series.

* What a play by Odom…he was on Artest at the 3 point line, then after an entry pass dropped down to block a Scola layup attempt. Wow.

* Artest is having a career game and series so far, aided by that fluke shooting in addition to his mismatch with Ariza.

* Fish continues to whip Brooks tonight, as much as he got whipped on Monday.

* We are 5/14 from distance. Improved, but still not good.

* We have a 12-2 free throw advantage this quarter, making up for the 13-2 Houston 2nd (it ended 14-3).

* Scola got a little rough with Lamar and they got double techs, but somehow Luke got one too for being peacemaker. You never see them unbalanced on those kinds fo plays, how odd.

* WOW! Fish, having none of Scola’s thuggery, fights back with a shoulder to Scola’s chest as he tried to set a high screen. So much for that infamous softness!

Wow, they gave him a flagrant 2 (ejection), I expected a 1 even given the retaliation, and even giving Scola credit for a huge flop in selling it. Deron Williams did the exact same thing to Bynum last series with a 20 foot running head start and did not even get a flagrant, and it was also right after another incident so also had the pure retaliation angle.

At least he won’t get suspended, per the Rondo precedents. (update: He did get suspended for game 3. I guess he should have punched Scola in the mouth or thrown him into the scorer’s table, those don’t even merit a fine. Those idiots who claim the league or officials have some kind of pro-Laker bias must really be feeling stupid right now).

Fourth quarter:
* Farmar is struggling with Lowry too. Then again, can any point guard check any other under the current rules? Hard to blame the defenders.

* Sasha hits a 2! Notable since he was 0/11 inside the arc in the last series.

* We get rung up for two team fouls in the first minute, and a third at the 10:18 mark. They could shoot lots of free throws here. Touch fouls are being called as they try to get a handle on the game, maybe they will start to even out some.

* There’s the Artest we know and love – he overdribbled as we swarmed him, turnover.

* And we get them into the bonus at 8:50, then commit team fouls 5 and 6 at 8:37 and 8:31. Oh yeah, there’s a pro-Laker bias…not.

* Wow, Adelman kicked Wafer off the bench and sent him to the locker room over something he yelled at the coach about, must have been pretty bad. Wonder if that will linger or be forgotten next game?

* We are suing a Farmar-Brown-Kobe three man backcourt against their small Brooks-Lowry backcourt.

* More wow! Artest got mad and went across the court to get into Kobe’s face, getting a tech. Then he gets another for doing a throat slash gesture after they are separated and he’s gone.

Replays show that Artest’s elbow bumped Kobe’s head and Kobe threw his arm out to clear him off, hitting Ronnie in the upper chest near the throat. Artest obviously took it as a throat shot and ignored his own elbow there, but still pretty dumb to get tossed.

* Yao picks up his fifth foul at 6:17.

* Kobe picks up a tech for taunting Battier, just stupid. He did it earlier too but you sure can’t expect to get away with that now after all of this drama. Act like it’s not the first time you ever scored on Battier next time, Kobe.

* They have turned it over 19 times to our 10, which has helped us get out in transition tonight. 8 turnovers in the quarter for them, leading to 11 points.

Well, that was certainly a heated game. Not only do we have a competitive series, we now have a contentious one as well now. Should be fascinating stuff in Houston this weekend.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Houston Game 1 thoughts

1st quarter:
* Bynum picks up two quick fouls, he’ll have to sit less than three minutes in, not good.

* Some good early overplays against Yao, resulting in some loose balls.

* Fisher is forcing it some against Brooks. Taking him to the post is a good idea, but the execution is not there yet.

* Artest looks too strong for Ariza to guard.

* Some of it is rust, and some of it is their good D, at any rate we are struggling on offense in falling down.

* Those fans who thought Portland was the tougher matchup this round are felling pretty damned stupid right about now.

* Bad luck for Yao, as he picks up his second call on a bit of an accident late in the quarter.

* Battier took an inadvertent from Sasha and bled like he was a boxer. Not just any boxer but Chuck Wepner, aka the Bayonne Bleeder.

* Artest is 3/5 including a made 3 in the quarter, good news as it might encourage him to shoot more.

2nd quarter:
* They are matching Artest with Odom, mitigating Odom’s quickness advantage over most 4’s.

* And now Odom picks up his second, early in the quarter – hello Josh Powell.

* Artest banks in a wild 3, good lord.

* The second unit is really pushing the ball with Yao out of the game.

* Haye’s defense is a factor – he has made nice plays against both Bynum and Gasol. You are NOT going to back that guy down, he’s just too strong.

* We have 0 threes so far, a good reason for being down 34-26. The offense continues to be really out of sync, due to the rust/defense combo.

* Pau: 4 points, 2 times smacked in the face so far.

* A 40 point half, nobody in double figures, 0/7 from distance – ugly.

3rd quarter:
* The Lakers just ran the worst fast break in history, as Drew and Pau were running side by side down the middle of the paint together. The only question was which one would get the charge. Pau’s mistake I think, as he was (or should have been) the trailer.

* Runs both ways, as they go from 43-40 to 49-40, then we cut it to 49-48, then they push it back to 59-50.

* This is going to be a long series.

* You can’t help off Yao, but you can still cut off Brooks when he goes baseline. The Lakers badly screwed that up twice in a row, giving him layups.

* The anticipated Odom-Scola mismatch is not materializing yet. We need Lamar to exploit that quickness edge in this series and break them down.

* When Yao is in there, their size is killing us so far. Man bites dog.

* Odom is 1/4 from the line.

* Farmar gets into the game and nails a 3 at the end of the quarter. He played Brooks in college, so he may need some time in this series in that matchup, although I shudder at the thought of his “offense.”

4th quarter:
* Brown is overmatched by Lowry, although I’m not sure that Farmar is the answer there, we may just have to get by with that one.

* Wafer is invisible tonight, credit to great Sasha D.

* The defense as a whole is picking it up, leading to a 77-76 lead.

* Lamar is now 1/6 from the line, you’ve got to be kidding.

* The lead was short-lived, it’s now 83-77 and we just saw some bad Kobeball as he rises up for a 22 footer with Battier in his face and 18 seconds on the shot clock, halfway through the quarter, uh oh. That’s 27 shots so far, wonder why we’re behind?

* Even worse Kobeball less than a minute later, he dribbles into 3 or 4 defenders in the lane and fumbles it away, but it goes off a Rocket and right to Gasol for a layin. If he only had a brain…

* Yao hurt a knee on the play, a painful reminder of when out of control Kobe hurt Bynum’s knee in January. But Yao goes into the tunnel, works it out some, and comes back quickly – warrior. I think it was just a knee to knee, maybe very minor hyperextension. Painful but minor.

* And more Kobeball, a shake and bake fadeaway with Battier right in his face, that’s three straight possessions he has sabotaged with his stupid play.

* Yao is back to hit a jumper: 87-81. And now some post moves leading to free throws twice in a row.

* We ended 2/18 on 3’s. That would be pretty bad for me.

And so we are in the 0-1 hole. Not a big deal, this team is beatable on the road, but what it means is that this series is going to be a real battle no matter how many games it goes.

The 4-0 in the regular season, in particular winning each game in the 4th quarter, hurt us some here as we just assumed that the game could be taken over late if needed, this should shake them out of that mindset.

Kobe ended up with 32 points on 31 shots and 5 FTA. The Lakers are now 2-6 this year when he takes 30+ shots (in regulation) and 1-7 all time in the playoffs. Bottom line, if Kobe shoots 30 times we are the Clippers.

When taking a 1-0 lead in series, Phil is a well-documented 42-0. The flip side is he’s 6-8 when losign game 1, a little different from the historic 21% figure. The dude can coach a little.

We committed 26 fouls to their 14, and they had a 29-19 FT edge. Somem of that was late, but some of it was not taking it to the hole.

Kobe was awful (26 of his 31 shots were jumpers, 19 of those beyond 15 feet), yes, but so were Pau, Odom and Fisher among the lead guys and ShanWOW and Sasha among the reserves, this was in every sense a team effort.

Yao played 40 minutes; we should be able to tire him out as the series goes on if he even comes close to that.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

R.I.P. Tim Kokojan

Tim, a close family friend, in particular of my sister, has died this morning. He had suffered from the early effects of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease, or ALS) beginning in September, 1997 and had been diagnosed with the degenerative disease in August 2005, and the last couple of years had been pretty tough as he gradually lost all motor function. May he rest in peace, and my deepest sympathies to his many friends and family members.

This is a horrific disease that causes great physical and emotional suffering to all involved. If you have the means please consider a donation to The ALS Association.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

We’ve seen the next enemy…

…and he is Houston.

We don’t like Houston, because they really, REALLY pissed us off in 1981 and 1986. Even though that’s been a while and they haven’t done much to aggravate us lately, we remember.

We don’t particularly like the town either, it’s humid, the traffic sucks and the nightlife and culture is pretty lame, although the “scenery” is good.

This version brings what you expect from the Rockets of recent vintage, namely suffocating half court defense and a nondescript offense, with a huge Chinaman in the middle you have to deal with on both ends.

That defense put a pretty good whipping on Portland’s top-ranked offense. They are superb guarding the paint, with Yao obviously being a huge part of that but they are also very active on the interior in general and they retain most of the defensive principles of departed gurus Jeff Van Gundy and Tom Thibodeau.

Add in defensive stud Chuck Hayes and the interior presence of guys like Landry (who looks to be fully recovered from his near death experience, thankfully), Artest and even Battier and you have a formidable inside defensive team.

We will have an advantage when Yao is out of the game, the career-ending injury to Mutombo will hurt them here as they don’t appear to have anybody who can guard Bynum or especially Pau, we can exploit that if we are patient. Hayes would be useful here, but he is limited enough on offense that they may be afraid to use him much against a high octane team like the Lakers.

Another advantage could be Odom when guarded by Scola, Lamar is just too quick for the Argentine and should look to isolate and go by him when possible to get their defense scrambling.

As good as their interior defense is, they might be even better on the perimeter. Artest and Battier are both in the conversation for the best perimeter defender in the game, and Artest is also strong enough to guard a lot of 4’s. And they are quick rotating to shooters, partially because Yao is so big in the middle and partially just because they have heady players and great defensive principles.

Kobe will get the tag team treatment from Artest and Battier, with the other often available to check somebody else and the underrated Kyle Lowry coming off the bench to defend our 1’s and Sasha. Kobe has to be patient against this team, avoiding the overdribbling that he still slips into on occasion and not forcing too many shots. Not only do they have to double him less than most, but their quick rotations also make it tougher for Fisher/Ariza/etc to get open 3’s.

We will of course want to work inside out and reverse the ball quickly and make the extra pass, but the pure fact is that when you let their halfcourt defense get set this team makes it very tough to get good looks.

And therein lies a key – get stops and get out in transition and good things will happen. They are good at getting back on shooters but Yao can be beaten down the court and attacking them before they are set should lead to some good things, mismatches and odd man breaks leading to open shots. It all starts with getting stops and securing defensive rebounds.

Houston’s offense is predicated on getting the ball inside to Yao and surrounding him with shooters, cutting actions off of Yao and Scola, some Brooks penetration and some Artest freelancing. They don’t really have anybody who can create their own shots very much, so they must be precise in their execution or they can be prone to scoring droughts, which are tough to overcome against a team like the Lakers.

So defending them is all about handling Yao. Nobody can handle him when he catches the ball near the basket, so the bigs must work to try to push him out and not let him catch it deep. This is where Bynum is needed, he is strong enough to make Yao work if he plays smart and with effort. Fronting is another common tactic against Yao, one that our length can make effective at times. And we have had some success in sending doubles at him from unusual angles. The key is to mix it up and help the helper and rotate behind that to get out on shooters – this is a team that can hurt you if you give them open 3’s.

We also have to watch out for Scola, who is a very clever scorer with cutting to the hoop and flashing out for open midrange jumpers. He gave Portland fits and has to be playing with a lot of confidence right now, don’t lose track of him and be careful when you help off of him (I’m talking to you, Lamar).

And be smart in help. They have a lot of shooters, helping off the wrong man or being slow in rotations will burn you here.

The wild card is Artest. He can sabotage their whole offense by overdribbling and firing up contested shots. He can make the 3 if he is open and gets his feet set, but you can goad him into taking bad shots pretty easily, and when he does the other guys start to stand around and their whole offense grinds to a halt. Stay in front of him (easier said than done with his strength) and force him to help and he will make some bad decisions for you.

They are also a team that hits the offensive glass hard, and given our struggles there in the first three games against Utah and this has to be a point of emphasis. Landry is almost a clone of Paul Millsap, who gave us fits in the last series. Make them work for their points instead of giving them easy putbacks.

Put it all together and this is a very dangerous team who will be hard to pull away from in games, their defense is just too good for that. But if you play good defense yourself you can get some separation as they are not good enough offensively to beat you in a shootout. Push the pace and execute and you will bring this one home, be lazy and undisciplined on D and impatient on O and it will be a dogfight.

I’d like to see us win in 5, but will be happy with any result that doesn’t involve a game 7. Win the first two at home and you can put them on their heels and create some doubt given the regular season results, let them get one of those and you’re in for a long two weeks, so the key is to come out of the gates swinging and don’t give them hope.

And F you, Ralph Sampson.

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