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Friday, October 20, 2006

Clippers Squeak by Kobe-less Lakers, 91-90

The L.A. Clippers defeated the L.A. Lakers 91-90 in the first round of the preseason Laker Shootout Tournament at Staples Center as TNT kicked off its 2006-07 NBA preseason coverage; in an earlier game that was not shown on TNT, the Golden State Warriors beat the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets 112-103, so the Clippers will face the Warriors in Friday's championship game while the Lakers will play the Hornets in a consolation matchup. Cuttino Mobley led the Clippers with 26 points, Elton Brand scored 20 and Corey Maggette contributed 14. Sam Cassell and Chris Kaman did not play due to injuries. Second year center Andrew Bynum scored 15 points for the Lakers and Smush Parker added 13. Rookie guard Jordan Farmar had 14 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant is still recovering from knee surgery and has yet to play in the preseason, although he has done some light practicing and says that he feels good and that his rehabilitation is going according to schedule. Lamar Odom had a subpar game--9 points, 6 rebounds, 7 turnovers, 2-8 shooting from the field. The Clippers are now 3-1 in the preseason, while the Lakers fall to 2-3.

The list of injuries for the Lakers is truly daunting: Kobe Bryant is of course the foremost name, but Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, Vladimir Radmanovic, Shammond Williams, Aaron McKie and Von Wafer are all nursing various ailments--plus Phil Jackson just had hip replacement surgery, so Kurt Rambis is coaching the team during the preseason, although Jackson has been present at some of the practices and expects to return to the bench in time for the regular season.

This game had a disjointed rhythm, which is not surprising considering how many players from both teams' regular rotations sat out or played fewer minutes than usual. The teams combined for 59 fouls, 45 turnovers and only 56 field goals made; the Clippers shot 28-66 from the field (.424), while the Lakers shot 28-72 (.389). NCAA basketball fans won't like this comparison, but what the game reminded me of most was last year's last year's NCAA Tournament. The good news is that this was just an exhibition game (even though the NBA and NFL hate that term and prefer "preseason") and when the regular season starts in less than two weeks the quality of play will be a lot higher. TNT's Steve Kerr said that the "intensity goes up 80%" in regular season games compared to preseason games and that this is the biggest adjustment that rookies have to make. He and fellow analyst Reggie Miller agreed that the game might seem easy to young players during summer league or the preseason but then they get a rude awakening when the real games start.

Much like when Al Michaels and John Madden broadcast the preseason NFL Hall of Fame Game, Kerr, Miller and play by play announcer Marv Albert spent at least as much time talking about general league issues as they did specific plays. One interesting discussion centered around Kobe Bryant. Albert mentioned that in 2005-06 the Lakers were 18-9 when Kobe Bryant scored at least 40 points, seemingly refuting the notion that it is a bad thing for his team when Bryant shoots/scores a lot; Albert asked Kerr and Miller for their thoughts about that statistic and Kobe's style of play in general. Kerr replied that Kobe must find a balance to his game the same way that Michael Jordan eventually did and that Kobe seemed to make a lot of progress toward that end last season and particularly in the playoffs. Miller said that he likes it when Kobe puts up a lot of shots because Kobe is the only player on the team who has a killer instinct and that there are not a lot of other credible late game scoring options on the team. My take on this is that Kobe Bryant is a fierce competitor whose foremost objective is to win; if the best way for his team to win is for him to shoot a lot, then he will drop 81 points, as he did in a come from behind victory against Toronto--and if the best way to win is to pound the ball inside to Kwame Brown and Lamar Odom to exploit mismatches, as the Lakers did against Phoenix in the playoffs, then he will do that as well. Kobe still averaged 27.9 ppg (and a playoff career high .497 field goal percentage) in that series, including a 50 point game, so he showed that he can "defer" and still hit crucial baskets. One thing is certain, Albert, Kerr and Miller agreed: if the Lakers don't win, Kobe will be blamed whether he shoots a lot or a little.

Mobley scored 19 of his points in the first half but the Lakers had a 53-51 lead. Sideline reporter Cheryl Miller asked Odom how the Lakers had managed this and he replied, "Teamwork; team effort running our Triangle; staying disciplined." He also cited the efforts of coaches Jackson, Kurt Rambis, Brian Shaw, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Craig Hodges, concluding, "We're well prepared."

Admittedly, it is hard--no, impossible--to draw meaningful conclusions about either team from a game like this, but it is interesting to observe the development of some of the players who saw extensive action. First, the Lakers: Bynum looks bigger and his game is smoother and more confident. Don't get me wrong, he still has a long way to go, but he has a lot of tools and has clearly worked on his game; Ronny Turiaf provides a lot of energy and hustle and even displayed some nice postup moves; Farmar's physique resembles Mike Bibby's and, like Bibby, he showed that he can hit open shots and get in the lane and make plays despite not having blazing speed or dazzling jumping ability; Sasha Vujacic can hit open shots and is a "pesky" defender, as Kerr put it; Parker plays hard and is athletic but he shot only 3-11 from the field, and if he cannot hit open shots then he will lose playing time to Farmar, Vujacic and/or Shammond Williams. Some thoughts on the Clippers: Brand, like Phoenix' Shawn Marion, puts up "quiet" numbers. It doesn't always seem like he is doing a lot and then you look at the boxscore and he has 20 points, five rebounds and four steals. He seems to be coasting at times in the preseason but I'm sure that he will have another All-Star season; Maggette had 14 points in only 19 minutes and if he stays healthy he will really provide a good scoring punch either as a starter or a sixth man; Tim Thomas shot 1-11 from the field, his only make coming on a three pointer near the spot where he hit the dagger for Phoenix against the Lakers in game six of last year's playoffs. Miller made the point that Phoenix' system, with Nash driving and kicking to open shooters, was perfect for Thomas and that none of the Clippers' guards will be spoonfeeding Thomas for open shots in a similar manner. It will be interesting to see what kind of role Thomas plays for the Clippers this year; Livingston is clearly a talented player but he still makes a lot of mistakes and is not always on the same page as Coach Mike Dunleavy in terms of shot selection and decision making.

A funny moment happened at the start of the second half. The fans started booing, which seemed to disorient the players momentarily because nothing dramatic had happened on the court. Albert explained that the fans were upset because game seven of the National League Championship Series between St. Louis and New York was no longer being shown on the giant overhead screen. Kerr wondered why the fans didn't stay home and watch the baseball game if they were that interested in it but the Staples Center came up with a unique solution by utilizing picture in picture (!), something that I've never seen before on an arena's overhead screen; Miller had never seen it either but said that in Hollywood anything can happen.

The Lakers outscored the Clippers 23-17 in the fourth quarter and had the ball for the last possession with less than 20 seconds left and the Clippers clinging to a 91-90 lead. After a timeout, the Lakers inbounded the ball to Farmar, who did a lot of dribbling before Odom set a screen, forcing the Clippers to switch Tim Thomas on to Farmar. Farmar tried to drive past Thomas, but Thomas poked the ball away and time ran out before the Lakers could recover the loose ball and get off a shot. Suffice it to say that I don't think we will be seeing that play too often when Kobe is in the lineup. It's easy for guys to say that they want to take more shots when Kobe is doing all of the heavy lifting, but when Kobe is not around and everyone else can be guarded man to man it is not so easy to be a hero. Kobe's presence, even if he is used as a decoy, makes things easier for everyone; the defense would have been positioned a lot differently with Kobe on the court even if the Lakers still decided to run the Farmar/Odom screen and roll play. On a previous possession, Odom drove to the hoop and was also stripped. A lot of players say that they want the ball at the end of the game but few really do and even fewer can produce in that situation--but the good news for Lakers fans is that this team plays hard, seems to be coachable and is good enough to keep games close enough for Kobe to have a chance to make a difference at the end.

As for the Clippers, it has a been a long, strange preseason for them, starting with traveling to Europe for two games against Russian teams as part of the NBA Europe Live Tour. Then they came back to the United States and had a training camp in Santa Barbara. The issue of whether or not Kaman will sign a contract extension hangs over the team, as does the question of how minutes will be allocated between veteran point guard Cassell and point guard of the future Shaun Livingston. Albert, Kerr and Miller talked like it is a foregone conclusion that the Clippers will win 50-55 games and make a run at the Western Conference Finals but I am not convinced. For all the talk of how the Clippers have supplanted the Lakers in L.A., the Clippers only won two more games than the Lakers last year and the teams split the regular season series. Assuming that Bryant returns to health soon, there is just as much reason to believe that the Lakers--in the second year of Phil Jackson's new regime--can show improvement in their implementation of the Triangle Offense that will lead to more wins as there is to believe that the Clippers will be better.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:11 AM

8 comments

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8 Comments:

At Friday, October 20, 2006 3:12:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

you have repeatedly chided Shaq for delaying his foot surgery, while on the LAkers.

Kobe had his knee surgery on 7/15. See http://www.realgm.com/src_wiretap_archives/42690/20061013/kobe_practices_for_first_time_since_knee_surgery/

Lakers-Suns playoff series ended on 5/6. http://www.nba.com/games/20060506/LALPHX/recap.html

How do you explain the 2+ month delay for Kobe to have his knee surgery?

 
At Friday, October 20, 2006 4:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kobe and the Lakers' training staff thought that his knee simply needed rest and that the problem was not serious enough to require surgery. After Kobe rested the knee, he tried to resume his training but the knee became problematic again. That is when he had the surgery. His rehab is going according to schedule and he is not expected to miss any regular season action. By the way, the knee bothered him for most of last season, limiting his ability to drive (which is part of the reason he shot so many threes) but he did not miss a single game due to the injury (the two games he missed were because of the suspension for elbowing Mike Miller). Shaq deliberately delayed having a procedure that he knew he would have to undergo because he felt that he sustained the injury on "company time" so he should do the healing on "company time" and not disturb his summer vacation; those are his explanations and his phrasing, not mine.

Here is a link that gives the background of Kobe's knee situation and how he spent his "summer vacation":

http://www.protrade.com/content/DisplayArticle.html?sp=S01a0e795-49b2-11db-91d5-5fe2474ddb33&x=x

I suspect that this link will not come through well when I post this comment. You may also be interested in his activities in the community this summer and how his comments about Team USA were misquoted, so here is the complete text of the article, which is an AP story from Sept. 20:

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Kobe Bryant took care of a number of things this summer: He traveled around Asia - where some of his basketball comments got lost in translation - underwent knee surgery and hit the weights.

One thing he didn't do was play for the United States at the world championships. He wanted to be on the team, but his right knee didn't cooperate. He had arthroscopic surgery instead, a decision he's altogether happy with as he gets ready for his 11th season.

``The knee's getting healthier and stronger day by day,'' the Los Angeles Lakers' star told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. ``I haven't been able to run yet; I should be cleared to run in a while. I've been doing a lot of weight training, things of that nature.''

Bryant hopes to hit the court running before the end of the month - just in time for the start of training camp Oct. 3.

``We just have to play it by ear,'' he said. ``The most important thing is to get all the strength in my leg back. You don't want to rush it.''

Bryant expects to be 100 percent healthy by the time the Lakers open the season Oct. 31 against the Phoenix Suns.

``I hope so,'' he said with a laugh.

It was common knowledge that Bryant's knee bothered him last season, but apparently more than he let on.

``It took me 45 minutes to warm up for practice and games. It was crazy,'' he recalled. ``It was very sore, you just played around it. I couldn't attack, put pressure on the defense the way I wanted to.''

Maybe not, but he still managed to win his first scoring championship, averaging 35.4 points - the highest since Michael Jordan's 37.1 in the 1986-87 season and the eighth highest in NBA history.

Bryant led the Lakers to a 45-37 record and the playoffs after they went 34-48 a year earlier, when they failed to qualify for the first time in 11 years. Los Angeles extended Phoenix to seven games in the first round before losing.

Bryant, who turned 28 last month, figured rest was all his knee needed. But that didn't do it.

``I got back into my training, a couple days into it, it got sore,'' he said. ``Then, it started getting worse.''

He had surgery July 13, thinking he would make a full recovery in eight to 12 weeks. He seems right on schedule.

Bryant hopes the signing of Vladimir Radmanovic , Maurice Evans and Shammond Williams will strengthen the Lakers.

``We made some key additions with those guys,'' Bryant said. ``We turned some heads the way we performed last season. We were a very young team. We're still a young team. I think it will be exciting.''

Bryant helped put on three clinics this summer - in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Philadelphia - and will be part of a three-sport clinic Tuesday in conjunction with the New Orleans Recreation Department and the Fox Sports Network's ``Best Damn Sports Show Period.''

``It's an uphill battle,'' Bryant said, referring to the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina. ``With any uphill battle, the important thing is to take it one day at a time. They're not alone in this.''

Member of the New Orleans Saints are expected to participate along with the New Orleans Hornets and the New Orleans Zephyrs, a Triple-A baseball team.

During the summer, Bryant toured Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. While in Taipei, he was quoted as saying the U.S. basketball team will have to work on its chemistry to perform well at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Didn't happen, he says now.

``Those words never came out of my mouth,'' he said. ``I think something must have gotten lost in translation. Obviously, they misunderstood everything I was saying.''

Bryant plans on playing in the Olympics, joining the likes of LeBron James , Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade . He credits other national teams for improved play, pointing to the world championships as a good example. The U.S. lost to Greece in the semifinals and finished with the bronze medal.

``I think they played extremely well,'' he said, referring to the American team. ``Greece played better on that day. What can you say? It's on us to have that challenge to step up to that level.''

----

In contrast, Shaq purposely delayed a surgery that he knew he would have to undergo and was less than diligent in his rehab efforts. Here is an interesting take on this from an Amherst Student Online article at the time (yeah, I never heard of this publication, either, but the author makes some very good points):

---

L.A. Lakers hurt by Shaq’s selfishness
Justin Sharaf, Babbling Bostonian

In case you’ve missed it, the Los Angeles Lakers are back in playoff contention in the Western Conference. With Kobe Bryant making a case for MVP and showing that he might just be the best player in the league, the Lakers have snuck over .500 for the first time this season. Most people look at the Lakers’ improved play and assume that the return of Shaquille O’Neal to basketball shape has transformed the team back into last season’s championship form. I agree that O’Neal’s return has sparked the Lakers, but I think that Bryant has brought his game to the next level while O’Neal is shedding the rest of his rust.

Shaq missed the first 12 games of the Lakers’ season with a toe injury and looked very immobile when he returned to the lineup in the middle of November. He has not been the same dominant center that he has been over the past decade. Just this weekend, Shaq reported having extreme pain in both his left knee and big toe. “I’m doing bad; I’m hurting,” O’Neal told the Los Angeles Times. “I can’t play like this.” Obviously the big man is not playing at 100 percent health.

I look at Shaq’s recurring injuries and wonder whether he returned too quickly and if he would have benefited from a few more weeks of rest. With the Lakers struggling to start the season (3-9 without Shaq), was Shaq under pressure from the Lakers to return to the court, even if it meant returning before his injuries healed? Shaq was already under intense scrutiny for delaying his toe surgery, forcing him to miss the start of the season.

When asked why he did not have the surgery immediately after last season’s championship series, Shaq responded by saying that he should be allowed to have the surgery whenever he wants, even if that meant missing parts of the season. He asked why it wasn’t perfectly acceptable to have the surgery done on “company time” instead of during his offseason.

This brings up an important issue. If an athlete suffers an injury during a game or on “company time” as Shaq would call it, does that athlete have the right to rehab the injury during “company time” instead of during that athlete’s free time, even if it means missing part of a season? I would argue that someone like Shaq should have enough respect for his teammates and organization, as well as for the fans, to have surgery and do the rehab in the offseason in order to return to the court as soon as possible. When you are getting paid $20 million to play basketball for less than half of the year, you should be required to make every effort to play during that entire period.

Shaq would argue that he could have stopped playing before the season ended last year because he was in such pain, but he played through the pain, and should be commended. However, just because he played through injury last year does not mean he should be allowed to milk an injury the following year. Athletes should play through injuries as best they can, and when possible, schedule surgery and rehab during periods of inactivity, not in the middle of the season.

Whether Shaq returned from injury too soon can still be debated. The fact that his play has suffered this year because he missed the preseason and the first 12 games, cannot be debated. The Lakers may still win the NBA Championship this year, and Shaq may still be the MVP of the playoffs, but Shaq let down his teammates, the Lakers organization and the fans. He should be ashamed for still getting paid while missing over 15 percent of an already short season. His selfishness should be condemned.

 
At Saturday, October 21, 2006 12:08:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Who cares? Preseason is garbage. You both know Bryant is going to average is 35 and the Lakers wont be any good. There is no reason that the Lakers are playing the Heat on Christmas anymore. They made up. Shaq won without him. The NBA is a joke. You know who is going to average 30 and you know who the top teams are and the bad teams. Enjoy the season.

 
At Saturday, October 21, 2006 3:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I wouldn't say that preseason is garbage; it is necessary for the players to work on their conditioning and for teams to put together their offensive and defensive systems--this is no small task considering the amount of roster turnover each year.

I don't think that Kobe will average 35 ppg this year and I don't think that the Lakers won't be any good, either. I expect Kobe to average 30-32 ppg and I think that the Lakers have a shot to win 50 games.

Of course, the reason that the Lakers and Heat are playing on Christmas is that the NBA and the TV networks think that the game will draw high ratings because of the star power: Shaq, Kobe, DWade, Riley, Phil Jackson, etc.

I'm looking forward to this season and expect to see some great individual and team performances. Sorry to hear that you think that the NBA is a joke.

 
At Sunday, October 22, 2006 1:26:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Its good to see your optimism, David. But you have watched and followed the NBA enough years to understand and know what is going to happen. Look I love the NBA. I grew up on it, but Im tired of the terrible play. Bad shooting percentages, carrying of the ball, shot selection, losing to international teams, silly off the court situations.

You said Bryant will average 32 not 35. Thats not a big difference. The Lakers didnt make any major moves that impressed me.

The preseason is garbage. There are only like 2 spots on each team. Eight games are too many and the games are never interesting. I understand what teams need to do. And since Im not a head coach I dont care about preseason. The only good thing about it is that the regular season is near. Of course I will watch and probably get the NBA plan. But im not impressed with the NBA anymore.

 
At Monday, October 23, 2006 2:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Like anything else, the NBA goes through cycles, so we can choose to focus on the good or dwell on the bad. I look forward to seeing team rivalries like Dallas-San Antonio, Lakers-Phoenix and Miami-Chicago (or New Jersey, Cleveland or Detroit). Players like LeBron, Kobe, DWade, T-Mac, Dirk, Duncan and others are sure to have some sparkling performances this year as well.

The difference between 35 and 30-32 is 10-15%; my point is that Kobe scored 35 ppg because that was what the Lakers needed him to do and that this year the team will execute the triangle more efficiently, so he will not have to shoulder quite so much of the scoring burden. He has already publicly mentioned this.

I agree that the preseason is a bit lengthy but that is nothing new. One nice part about that is that many of the games are played in non-NBA cities, giving fans who don't normally get to go to NBA games a chance to see NBA action live. I grew up in a non-NBA city and enjoyed the NBA's annual (or near annual) preseason visits; those were the first NBA games that I saw in person.

The NBA got rid of the injured list, which was just a sham anyway, so teams can now have up to 15 players on their rosters, 12 of whom are active for a given game. So some undrafted or lightly regarded players do have a chance to make it. Plus, players who do well in the preseason may get signed to 10 day contracts later in the season after some players get hurt.

Yeah, I'm an NBA junkie, but I honestly don't think that things are as bad as you are suggesting.

Anyway, if you feel that negatively about the current NBA, at least you can check here frequently for articles about players from the "good old days" like Satch Sanders :)

 
At Tuesday, October 24, 2006 11:38:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

David, you know I read your interviews because I tell you that I read them. I will check the interview with Satch. I can understand that if you are from a non-NBA city that the pre-season is somewhat enjoyable.

Bryant averaging 3 points less.....we'll see.

Im an NBA junkie too. Ive had League Pass since it came out. I just would like to see game play to be a little better. Of course the usual teams and stars will do well. And its always a surprise to see what rookies will do well, especially the ones that people slept on. Cant wait for Halloween.

Someone tell Isiah to shut up.

 
At Tuesday, October 24, 2006 4:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kobe averaging 35 ppg was by necessity, not design, something that both he and Phil Jackson referenced on a few occasions last year. Jackson said as much to me when I asked him to compare Kobe's season to MJ's 37 ppg season. So, I look for #24 to average 30-32 and for the Lakers to make a run at 50 wins.

Satch has some interesting comments regarding Kobe, Wilt and how every player on a team has to know his role.

There are several intriguing rookies this year. Also, Toronto is trying to build Phoenix East (or Europe West) and it will be interesting to see how that turns out.

 

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