20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Kobe Drops 58, Grizzlies Drop Fratello--and the Clippers Just Drop

It's a potpourri edition of 20 Second Timeout, featuring one often discussed subject (Kobe Bryant), and two less frequently mentioned topics (the Grizzlies and the Clippers).

*** On Friday night, Bryant scored 58 points in a 133-124 triple overtime loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. Bryant and Rick Barry are now tied for fourth on the all-time list with 14 50-point games, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain (118), Michael Jordan (31) and Elgin Baylor (17). That is the third best single-game scoring effort of his career but it was unusual in three respects: (1) It took Bryant three overtimes to reach that total--he had 62 points in three quarters versus Dallas last year and 81 points in regulation versus Toronto; (2) The Lakers lost--the Lakers won Bryant's 81 and 62 point games and have posted a 49-22 record in his 40-point games and a 10-4 record in his 50-point games (those totals reflect the loss in Charlotte); (3) Bryant was completely exhausted by the effort--who knows whether the extra 15 minutes did him in or maybe it was the aftereffects of the flu but I have mentioned before that one of the most amazing things about Bryant is that he seems to be full of energy at the end of his highest scoring games. That was certainly not the case on Friday. Bryant didn't even make it all the way to his locker after the game, stopping in his tracks and answering reporters' questions at the entrance to the locker room.

The loss drops the Lakers to 4-5 without Lamar Odom but that is a little deceptive because the Lakers have been playing on the road recently after starting the season with a very favorable home schedule. The Charlotte game concluded a decent 3-3 road trip that would have been very good if the Lakers had pulled out the win to get to 4-2. Bryant started the game shooting 16-27 but shot only 6-18 down the stretch as fatigue set in. The 45 shots are the second most that he has ever attempted in a game, trailing only his 46 attempts in the 81 point game. Bryant's excellent start staked the Lakers to a 30-16 lead but he could neither keep up that pace nor find any teammates who were particularly interested in carrying the load. Coach Phil Jackson singled out Kwame Brown for criticism after the game, citing the numerous passes he dropped and his atrocious pick and roll defense (which I pointed out in my recap of the Christmas Day game between the Heat and Lakers--most headlines will tell you that Wade burned Bryant but if you watched the game you know that Wade burned the Lakers' pick and roll coverage and did not score that much against Bryant in one on one encounters). Here is what Jackson said about Brown's hands: "We're going to feed him Butterfingers on the flight home just so he can feel the effects of it. There was certainly some disappointment in the ability, or non-ability, of Kwame to complete plays that we thought were big plays for us. His teammates are disappointed." As for the pick and roll defense, Jackson explained the breakdowns against Charlotte this way: "Smush (Parker) is getting knocked off his man with screens and we wanted Kwame to come out hard, and Okafor was getting short one-dribble dunk situations. I know Kwame got perplexed out there with the screen-roll and how to play it. He got concerned about some of the things that were happening to him. We tried to help him through that situation."

*** The Memphis Grizzlies fired Coach Mike Fratello after a 6-24 start. Fratello is the franchise's all-time leader in coaching wins (95) and he guided the team to the playoffs each of the last two seasons. The Grizzlies' fate this season was sealed when All-Star Pau Gasol broke his foot in the FIBA World Championships but the fact that Memphis plummeted from being a playoff team to being the worst team in the league indicates that something more than Gasol's injury is at work here. The players did not like Fratello's slow it down, controlling style and basically quit on him. Team President Jerry West, who pulled the plug on Fratello, said simply, "We didn't compete. The fans deserve better than that." Being undermanned is one thing--and Memphis did have other injury problems besides Gasol--but you can always compete. Fratello has been replaced on an interim basis by Tony Barone, Sr., the team's director of player personnel. The plan is for Barone to spend the season getting an up close and personal view of the players he has acquired and then to return to his front office duties with an even better understanding of exactly what the team's personnel needs are. He will not become the permanent coach. On Saturday, Barone won his coaching debut as the Grizzlies ended their five game losing streak with a 110-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

Is it fair to fire a successful coach only 30 games into a season when the team's best player has missed most of the games due to injury and is just now rounding into form? Talk about a leading question--of course, it is not fair, but that is not the point. Fratello was at odds with West, who--according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, urged owner Michael Heisley to fire Fratello before the season started. It will be very interesting to see who gets the full-time coaching job and which players remain on the team. Of course, Memphis' ownership situation is up in the air, too, as Christian Laettner and Brian Davis seek to finalize their deal to buy the team from Heisley, so the Grizzlies could have a completely different look from top to bottom by this time next year.

*** Be honest--did you drink the Kool-Aid about the L.A. Clippers being a team on the rise and being the best team in town? It's OK--most people were fooled. However, I saw signs of trouble on the horizon, noting in my Western Conference Preview that, although the team "really seemed to turn the corner" that "the Clippers have no track record for sustaining greatness--or even viable playoff contending status. Cassell is aging and if he gets injured or has trouble accepting that Livingston's playing time is bound to increase then the Clippers boat will be sunk (again). Bottom line: This is a solid playoff team that is not quite good enough to contend for an NBA title." I ranked the Clippers fifth in the West, lower than many other people did--but even I may have at least (unwittingly) sipped the Kool-Aid because the Clippers are currently 11th in the West, which means they are three spots away from even making the playoffs, let alone being a "solid playoff team." They're actually only about four games back with 53 to go, so there is still time for them to improve just enough to match my correctly lowered expectations for them. What's wrong with the Clippers? The numbers of most of their top players have plummeted, they anointed Shaun Livingston as the point guard of the future but he is not ready to handle the job in the present, free agent acquisition Tim Thomas has been a disappointment and second leading scorer Corey Maggette is disgruntled and consequently the frequent subject of trade rumors.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:59 AM



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