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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Nets and Clippers Squander Golden Opportunities

The New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers returned home after splitting the first two games versus the Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns respectively. In Friday's game three, New Jersey led Miami 81-80 with 4:36 remaining, but committed numerous careless turnovers and fouls that enabled the Heat to close the game on a 23-11 run for a 103-92 win. Vince Carter scored 43 points--a Nets' NBA single game playoff scoring record--Jason Kidd had 10 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds and Richard Jefferson scored 17 points but the other Nets combined for only 22 points on 9-26 field goal shooting (.346). The Nets were without the services of key veteran reserve forward-center Cliff Robinson, who was suspended by the NBA for five games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Dwyane Wade had 30 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and six turnovers for Miami, while Shaquille O'Neal finished with 19 points and nine rebounds. Antoine Walker made an important contribution with 16 points, including 4-9 shooting on three pointers. As I mentioned in an earlier post, if New Jersey did in fact relax in game two because of winning game one in Miami--and that certainly seemed to be the case--that was a big mistake because Miami is very capable of winning on the road. Now New Jersey faces a must win game at home on Sunday, followed by the prospect of having to win again in Miami in order to advance. The Nets have shown in game one and for most of game three that they have perimeter weapons that can cause great difficulty for Miami as well as the tenacity to offer resistance to Shaq in the paint but they need to come with a strong effort and full concentration for the whole 48 minutes on Sunday.

The Clippers led Phoenix 85-82 with less than three minutes to go, but wound up losing 94-91. Shawn Marion scored 32 points and grabbed 19 rebounds for the Suns, while two-time MVP Steve Nash had a quiet game with 12 points and 10 assists--but he did score the Suns' final basket on a step back jump shot with less than four seconds remaining. Vladimir Radmanovic made his first five three pointers but missed a three pointer as time expired. Elton Brand had 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Clippers but only shot 7-17 from the field. Those are good numbers, but the Suns can live with that kind of production from Brand. As long as their defenders are active and their double-teams are aggressive the Suns can beat the Clippers. Phoenix only scored 94 points on .372 field goal shooting and still won; I doubt that the Suns will shoot that poorly again in this series. This game was played at the Clippers' preferred pace but L.A. lost anyway. San Cassell had a very quiet game, producing a triple single--6 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists on 2-10 field goal shooting; he and the Clippers will have to come up with a much better effort to avoid going to Phoenix down 3-1.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:54 AM


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Friday, May 12, 2006

Hubie Brown Interview Published at HoopsHype

Hall of Famer Hubie Brown led the Kentucky Colonels to the 1975 ABA title and twice won NBA Coach of the Year honors. He is a world renowned clinician and widely considered to be the best basketball analyst on television. I recently had a chance to speak with Brown about how he started in broadcasting and his memories of coaching Artis Gilmore and coaching against Julius Erving. He is passionate about the game of basketball and determined to help the public understand the beauty and the intricacies of the game. Here is a link to my interview with him (9/21/15 edit: the link to HoopsHype.com no longer works, so I have posted the original article below):

Which coach and which broadcaster most influenced your broadcasting style?

Hubie Brown: Believe it or not, I never tried to imitate or be influenced by anyone. Television came around for me in the 1981-82 season. USA Network gave me an opportunity. Jim Zrake was in charge of sports. They did the Thursday night doubleheaders. I had never done television. I was teamed up with Al Albert on the 7 o'clock game and Eddie Doucette and Steve Jones did the second game that year--usually a West Coast game. A lot of people don't remember that because if they are just young to the NBA they think it was (always) Turner but back then USA did the Thursday night games. I just did it with my own style right from the beginning. I tried to do the telecast as a clinic teaching type situation, using a lot of statistics that I thought that coaches found to be very important during the course of the games and that they used to evaluate their teams after playing a game.

This was relatively new because this affected the graphics of television. People back then said that it was difficult--that there were too many statistics and that there was too much basketball strategy. Now, I never listened to that because the people who were attacking the style were saying that the mentality of the viewer was at a sixth grade level, so consequently you should not challenge the viewer. My answer to that was that if baseball and football are so scientific and the analysts have 25 seconds between each snap in football and each pitch in baseball, why are you criticizing trying to present basketball as a uniform, highly strategic, five-people-working-together-on-a-string type of game? I didn't understand this. I never let anybody try to tell me that that was wrong.

Talk about the significance of the 1974-75 ABA championship in your career.

HB: It was the best team I ever coached. That team was only together one year...We lost two of our five starters for financial reasons. Last year that team was put into the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame and it was a great night for the Kentucky Colonels franchise name and for the players and everything. We were brought back to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the championship. We were also featured in the Kentucky Derby parade and for the entire Kentucky Derby weekend. That was the first time that a team was put into the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame. That is very significant when you think back to the incredibly great and outstanding University of Kentucky, University of Louisville and Kentucky Wesleyan national championship teams. So that was a great night. That team only had 10 players. We played 10 guys a quarter. The stars were Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel and Louie Dampier but we were 10 deep. We had a great second unit that pressed and trapped. We could play fast break or slow-down basketball. It was a perfect type of a team to coach. Ten guys, they all played, everyone was happy. There was great chemistry. We were every bit as good defensively as we were offensively. That was the year that Golden State won the NBA championship. Caesars Palace in Las Vegas made a challenge that we play a three game series--Friday, Saturday and Sunday--and they would put up--I don't know the exact amount, you would have to look it up--I think $5 million, which was a lot of money back then. They would pay all the expenses.

Naturally, the ABA Board of Governors voted unanimously for us to play. Unfortunately, the NBA voted in a negative stance, so the games never came off. That was a shame, because that would have been an eye opener for people across the country. There was an ignorance of the incredible talent that was in the ABA at the time and the great style of play--there was a lot of pressing and trapping, matchup zones, the three-point shot and we had the majority of the great, young talented players playing professional basketball at that time.

It is mystifying that Artis Gilmore is not in the Hall of Fame. Talk about his greatness and how underappreciated he is.

HB: When I took over in Kentucky, the team had been in the playoffs a number of years but had never won the championship...What we did is change the emphasis of who we were going to as our first option. That would now be Artis Gilmore. At the end of the season, we tied with the Nets for the best record and had a playoff game. We won the flip of the coin (for home court advantage) and we won the game. In the playoffs we beat Memphis 4-1. Then we beat St. Louis, who had upset the Nets, 4-1. Then we beat Indiana 4-1 in the Finals. Artis Gilmore was voted by Sport Magazine as the MVP of the playoffs and his numbers for points and rebounds in the playoffs were astronomical. He was overpowering. What you have in Artis Gilmore was a great team player, a player that was loved by all of his teammates. He had great humility. When the leagues merged, he went to Chicago and did a great job in Chicago and then moved from Chicago to the San Antonio Spurs, where they had outstanding teams. It is really hard to fathom how he is not in the Hall of Fame. He was such a dominant player.

If Dr. J had entered the NBA with the Nets and they had kept that championship team together, do you think that Dr. J would have put up numbers similar to the type of scoring numbers that Michael Jordan put up because he would have had more freedom and the whole system that Nets' coach Kevin Loughery was using was different?

HB: Doc was the premier presence of the ABA, not only because of his athleticism and what he accomplished as a player but because of what he did as a human being. His image was impeccable. After we merged in 1976 there was an All-Star Game in Atlanta (in 1978). I was Atlanta's coach. At the banquet before the night of the All-Star Game, Dr. J was presented with a trophy from Topps trading cards for receiving the most votes. How he accepted that trophy is still one of the greatest speeches that I have ever heard from an athlete.

As you know, the dislike between the two leagues back then was incredible. NBA people would downgrade the ABA and question whether the ABA players could play. The big thing that everybody was talking about if you were an ABA guy was the joshing around about how they said we couldn't play and then everyone would laugh (because of how many ABA players were in the NBA All-Star Game). Doc had the most votes and that represented the esteem across the country once people got to see him play...

Philadelphia was loaded with talent. By that I mean, distribution of shots became a major issue there. So when Dr. J came in, he did spectacular things, but if he would have come in with the New York Nets his position, his athletic talent, would have been emphasized more from an offensive standpoint. When you look at what Doc accomplished anyway in Philadelphia it was still outstanding. He also came in, I believe, with knee problems. He was the only player in the ABA who could turn your building against you. Every time that we played them for two years, we sold out Freedom Hall in Louisville for the Nets games because the world wanted to see Dr. J. His moves coming on the break, whether down the middle or down the right side--he did things that I have never seen done before or since to turn the sellout crowd in a building in his favor. I've never seen anything like it.

Isn't it true that you would fine your players if they did not foul him--not to hurt him, but to prevent him from dunking--on a fastbreak?

HB: They had to foul him from halfcourt before he got to the foul line to elevate, because once he got in the air it was over. So we would fine our guys. Make him take the ball out of bounds on the side if we were not in the penalty. Even if we were in the penalty, I would take my chances on him going one for two as opposed to him elevating from the foul line, holding the ball like it was a baseball and then doing these whirlwind dunks that were of a nature that was just absolutely incredible. Nobody had ever seen anything like this. We also did that in the NBA when I coached Atlanta and New York, for the same reasons.

I really appreciate the way that you have introduced statistics to the public during your broadcasts. Like you said, you don't talk down to the public but you try to educate them.

HB: Here's what you've got to remember. When I do clinics all over the world--and I've done them since 1970--I never underestimate the knowledge of the audience. I never underestimate the desire and the probing of that individual's IQ for the game. I never underestimate them, whether I was doing clinics for coaches from junior high school, high school, college or the pros, FIBA, around the world. I never underestimate their IQ for the game. I present it to them and that's how people learn--they learn by being challenged.

So what we're trying to do is to humbly show what the teams are running and why. We want you to understand that most of the action is on the opposite side of the floor, with continuity, and that it is a great game, just like the NFL; that's all I ever compare it to, to coaches. It's 11 guys on a string in football, five guys on a string at the NBA level. Because of the 24-second clock and because of the physical presence of the NBA athlete, this is not the game that you see at the high school and college and FIBA levels. They play at rim level, 10 feet.

From day one I try to present the (NBA) game to the people to show that this is a game played a foot above the rim, at the top of the box above the rim--because we have the greatest athletes playing at this level (the NBA). Things are erased because of athleticism, shot blocking, defensive quickness and rotation. I want you to understand that. This is not college basketball. This is not FIBA basketball. This is a game called roller ball. It's played by the greatest athletes and it's played under complete duress and duress is the key. Now, are you a man enough to play at this level and, more important, to stay at this level? You've got to be a tough person and you must have a lot of courage. Well, I want to present this game. I don't want everybody out there thinking that these guys just met at 6:00 and are playing at 7:30. Why do people say that football and baseball are so strategic and that they're more strategic than basketball? That's a naive person talking. They have no idea what goes into the continuities presented by the great teams in basketball.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:49 PM


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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Thoughts on the Second Round So Far--and Kobe's Game Seven Performance Revisited

Detroit leads Cleveland 2-0, but the San Antonio-Dallas, Phoenix-L.A. Clippers and Miami-New Jersey series are each tied 1-1. What have the first two games shown about these teams?

It is no mystery that Detroit is clearly a superior team to Cleveland. It will be very surprising if the Cavaliers win more than one game--but I think that it is important that Cleveland wins a game and avoids being swept. Sometimes when teams realize that they have no chance to win a series they take the "easy" way out and get swept, rather than win a home game and then take a final road trip for a loss before beginning their summer vacation. It is important for the development of this Cavaliers team that they win at least one game in Cleveland and force the Pistons to close out the series in Detroit. We know that the Cavs are outgunned and the Cavs surely know it as well but if you are trying to put together a championship caliber team then you want to push yourself constantly and never take the "easy" way. If Detroit can come into Cleveland and win two nail biting games that are decided on the last possession, then the Cavs can simply tip their hats and try to improve their roster for next season--but the Cavs should not allow Detroit to march into Cleveland and blow them out.

San Antonio narrowly won the first game versus Dallas and got waxed in game two. Dallas clearly is in the better position at the moment since the Mavs play the next two games at home. The funny thing about the playoffs, though, is that momentum changes from one game to the next. The Spurs are a veteran laden team that is defending a title and they are more than capable of winning a game (or two) in Dallas. I still expect San Antonio to win this series.

The Suns beat the Clippers 130-123 in game one despite Elton Brand scoring 40 points on 18-22 shooting. I have to admit that after watching that game I thought that Phoenix would have an even easier time than I had thought before the series started; scoring a lot of points is normal for Phoenix, something that the Suns can do game after game, but shooting 18-22 in a playoff game is a tremendous feat that is unlikely to be duplicated--and Brand's team lost anyway. I figured that in game two the Suns would play the same way, Brand might "slump" to 14-22 or something like that and Phoenix would be up 2-0. Instead, Brand, Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley each scored 20-plus points and the Clippers routed the Suns 122-97. Phoenix has to play with a very high energy level to combat the Clippers' superiority in size; they have to scramble around on defense, force turnovers, control the defensive glass and push the ball up the court. Those are the things that they did when their backs were against the wall versus the L.A. Lakers in round one and those are the things that will ultimately win this series for them.

New Jersey thumped Miami in game one, grabbing away home court advantage, and then looked very lethargic in a game two loss. As TNT's Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley noted, it is human nature to get complacent in game two after obtaining home court advantage in game one, but that type of thinking makes me cringe because good playoff teams can win on the road. Miami could very well get a split in New Jersey, forcing the Nets to win another game in Miami. If that happens, the Nets will face a must win in game five. Game sevens on the road in the NBA are death--just ask the L.A. Lakers.

Speaking of the Lakers, it has been suggested that Michael Jordan would never have played the way that Kobe Bryant did in the second half of game seven versus Phoenix. Chicago Tribune columnist Sam Smith, who wrote the book The Jordan Rules, periodically answers readers' questions about the NBA and recently discussed this very issue:

A lot has been written and said regarding Kobe's three-shot performance in Game 7 of the Phoenix series. Kobe and Phil Jackson claim that they wanted to win the right way, employing the pass-first mentality that won them three games earlier in the series. While Kobe's tendencies to sabotage have been well documented, I think it's unlikely that Kobe would actively sabotage things at such a key juncture in his career, having come so far this year. What are your thoughts? --A. Arain, Lombard, Ill.

This is what I think happened and it is Jordanesque. I don't buy that sabotage thing. Bryant had 23 by halftime and was on the way to 50 and the Lakers were in trouble, down 15 and going nowhere. So knowing Phil Jackson, he told Bryant the first four games they went inside and distributed the scoring and got up 3-1, that was their only chance. Kobe has been buying in and did so early in the series. So he does in Game 7 and the plan doesn't work and they're down 30 and can't guard the mop kids. It's over, so Kobe packs it in. If he shoots crazy now they lose and he's blamed for being selfish. So he shuts it down. Jordan did something similar in the 1989 conference finals against the Pistons. The Bulls were losing and the Pistons were double and triple-teaming Jordan, so Doug Collins told Jordan to move the ball and not shoot so much. OK, you think those guys can win! Jordan took eight shots in 46 minutes. Michael Jordan could get eight shots off on anyone getting off the bus. The Bulls couldn't recover and Jordan just stopped shooting. It was Game 5 of a six-game series loss. But Kobe is a villain and lightning rod too, so much of the blame goes to him. I don't think he was deserving of so much criticism.

One more Kobe note: Kobe received 22 first place votes in the MVP balloting, second only to Steve Nash, but only finished fourth overall because more than 20 voters left him completely off of their ballots. I was glad to hear Barkley, a frequent critic of Kobe's, say that those people should lose their voting privileges. Approximately one sixth of the voters picked Kobe as the MVP of the league and approximately one sixth of the voters did not even place him in the top five. I don't have a big problem with Nash winning but anyone who left Kobe completely off of the ballot either does not understand basketball or is motivated by factors other than what happens on the court.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:24 AM


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Monday, May 08, 2006

To Shoot or Not to Shoot?

NBA superstars constantly face the question "To shoot or not to shoot?" Their teams depend on them to shoulder a significant scoring load and to make difficult shots under pressure--but they also need them to create open opportunities for their teammates. Let's look at two recent examples of superstars grappling with the question "To shoot or not to shoot?" On Saturday night, Kobe Bryant's L.A. Lakers faced the daunting task of winning a game seven in Phoenix. The Lakers' game plan for most of the series was to pound the ball inside but right from the start of game seven it became apparent that the plan was not working: neither Lamar Odom nor Kwame Brown could make a shot. Bryant did not shoot much in the first quarter but in the second quarter he asserted himself offensively, scoring 18 points, and that turned out to be the only quarter of the game that the Lakers outscored Phoenix (30-28). He scored 23 points on 8-13 field goal shooting in the first half but the Lakers trailed by 15 because their defense was atrocious and nobody besides Bryant could score.

When the second half began, the Lakers again tried to establish their inside game but were never able to do so. Bryant's only point of the quarter came on a free throw after a technical foul and the Lakers trailed by 25 going into the fourth quarter, making that period academic for the purposes of this discussion. During the game and then afterwards, TNT's Charles Barkley first criticized Bryant for shooting too much in the first half and then blasted him for not shooting enough in the second half. On Sunday morning, the ensemble cast of ESPN's Sports Reporters weighed in with their disapproval of Bryant's play as well. The whole scenario is very comical. Critics have spent this whole season--and much of Bryant's career--labelling Bryant a selfish gunner who cares more about scoring than winning, despite the fact that Bryant was the primary playmaker on three championship teams. Bryant did not shoot a lot for long stretches of the first four games of the series against Phoenix. Why should nefarious motives be ascribed to him not shooting during the third quarter of game seven, particularly since he was constantly double-teamed? The same guys who are blasting him now would have blasted him even more severely if he had attempted shots with two defenders on him. Mike Lupica made the comment that two defenders couldn't stop Bryant from hitting the game winner in game four, intimating that Bryant must have been pouting to not attempt more shots against double-teams in game seven. Of course Bryant can shoot--and connect--against double-teams. That is one of the things that makes him special and one of the major reasons that the Lakers even made the playoffs--but against Phoenix, Coach Phil Jackson made establishing an inside game the Lakers' top priority. Bryant went along and the strategy worked, to a point. But, as TNT's Kenny Smith astutely observed, guys who are not accustomed to being big time scorers are unlikely to be able to produce high point totals for the duration of a seven game series.

Bryant's production in the fourth quarter of game seven is a moot point, because the game was long out of reach by then; people who are making a big deal of him only attempting three shots in the entire second half are ignoring the fact that the Lakers had no realistic chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, whether Bryant sat for the whole quarter (like LeBron James did on Sunday--see below) or jacked up 15 shots in 12 minutes--even down the stretch of the third it was apparent that only a complete Phoenix collapse could save the Lakers. What happened in game seven is that Bryant played the same way that he played in the Lakers' wins but his teammates failed to take advantage of numerous opportunities to score against one-on-one (or one-on-none) coverage while two defenders shadowed Bryant's every move; how exactly is this Bryant's fault?

On Sunday in the first game of the San Antonio-Dallas series, the Spurs' Tim Duncan put up first half scoring numbers very similar to Bryant's from the night before (20 points on 8-14 shooting). The other Spurs looked sluggish on offense in the first half but they played good enough defense to only trail by six at halftime. Duncan scored only one point from the 5:57 mark of the second quarter until the 1:32 mark of the third quarter. Duncan's slam dunk at that time cut the Mavericks' lead to two and the Spurs eventually won, 87-85. Duncan made several key baskets down the stretch of the game.

No one would suggest that Duncan was pouting when he hardly scored for a quarter and a half, but the biggest difference between Bryant and Duncan in these two examples is not what each one did but the amount of help that each one received from his teammates. Bryant and Duncan are two special players who each do whatever it takes to help their teams win. What other great NBA player has ever had his decision making process as closely scrutinized as Kobe Bryant's is, his every shot attempt (or lack of a shot attempt) placed under a microscope?

In Sunday afternoon's other game, Detroit wiped out Cleveland 113-86. LeBron James had 22 points but he did not score in the fourth quarter--let's start an investigation (just kidding; James did not see a second of playing time in the final period because the game was so far out of reach).

Detroit is a much better team than Cleveland but they are not 27 points better. Last year Detroit lost three game twos but recovered to win the series on two occasions and extended the Spurs to seven games in the NBA Finals before losing. Expect game two of this series to be much closer than game one and don't be shocked if Cleveland pulls off the upset. The Cavaliers will win a game this series before Detroit finishes them off and I think that it will either be game two or game three.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:42 AM


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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Phoenix Versus Los Angeles Clippers Preview

Western Conference Second Round

#2 Phoenix (54-28) vs. #6 Los Angeles Clippers (47-35)

Los Angeles can win if…Elton Brand and Chris Kaman dominate the paint, Sam Cassell wears down Steve Nash by having a good offensive series and Corey Maggette averages 20-plus ppg.

Phoenix will win because because…of their tremendous offensive firepower. The Suns are loaded with great shooters and great penetrators and the Clippers will neither be able to slow down Phoenix' offense nor win in a shootout by matching their point production.

Other things to consider: Don't be fooled into believing that the Clippers can simply copy Phil Jackson's game plan of pounding the ball inside and win the series that way. It is true that the Clippers' duo of Brand and Kaman is much better than the Odom-Brown combination that Jackson used, but the Clippers do not have a Kobe Bryant to draw double teams. Phoenix will be able to double team in the post and use their athleticism to scramble around on defense. Cassell is a great clutch player but is not the kind of threat that Bryant is and the Suns can guard him one-on-one without worrying that he might drop 50 points on them.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:02 AM


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Suns Outrun and Outgun Lakers in Game Seven

Apparently, the L.A. Lakers do not agree with me that "game seven" are two of the best words in sports because--other than Kobe Bryant--none of them showed up on Saturday night for game seven versus Phoenix, losing 121-90. Bryant tried to get his teammates involved early, but they reverted to their early season ways of not being able to catch or shoot the basketball. The Lakers trailed 32-15 after the first quarter, with Bryant shooting 2-4 from the field and scoring five points. In the second quarter Bryant became more aggressive offensively, scoring 18 points on 6-9 shooting, and the Lakers trimmed the lead to nine before a late Suns' burst pushed the margin to 60-45 at halftime. During TNT's halftime report, Charles Barkley criticized Bryant for shooting too much, which seemed odd since none of the other Lakers could hit the broad side of the barn with their attempts. Without Bryant's 23 points on 8-13 shooting the Lakers would have been down by 30. Does that sound strange considering how close the previous games were, even the ones in which Bryant shot less than usual? Well, maybe Bryant heard Barkley's remarks, because he attempted only three shots in the second half and scored his lone point on a free throw after a technical foul and the results were not pretty for the Lakers. For those of you scoring at home, in the second quarter--when Bryant "shot too much" and scored 18 points--the Lakers outscored the Suns 30-28. In the other three quarters the Suns outscored the Lakers 93-60. This is nothing new; this season the Lakers had a much better winning percentage in his 40-plus point games than in other contests.

Leandro Barbosa led the Suns with 26 points on 10-12 shooting, burning beyond recognition any and all Lakers who guarded him. Boris Diaw had 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds, while Steve Nash--who reportedly will receive his second MVP award on Sunday--contributed 13 points, nine assists and six rebounds despite reaggravating a sprained ankle.

The combination of Bryant hardly shooting in the second half and only having one assist in the game will provide much fodder for his numerous critics, who can now fire at will from all directions. In the coming days you can expect to hear that he shot too much in the first half, did not shoot enough in the second half, is selfish because he only had one assist and tried to prove a point by not shooting in the second half. Did I leave anything out? What is sorely needed here is some perspective, both about this Lakers team and about Bryant. First, the Lakers are one of the youngest teams in the league, have shown flashes of what they are capable of doing and as the seventh seeded team just extended the second seeded Phoenix Suns to seven games. Even in the games in which Bryant shot less than usual he had a big impact, because the Suns could not double-team in the post because of the powerful offensive threat that Bryant represents. His presence enabled the Lakers' post players to go one-on-one down low. Bryant did the same things in game seven that he did in the games that the Lakers won, but Lamar Odom shot 5-14 from the field and Kwame Brown shot 2-10 from the field. Both players missed numerous point blank attempts. Still, the Lakers made a lot of progress this year and have a bright future in front of them. Second, Bryant is the best player in the NBA and without him this team would not have won 20 games. Phoenix double teamed him throughout game seven, yet when he wanted to score he scored and when he wanted to distribute he penetrated, attacked the double-team and passed to the open man. I've heard a lot of Bryant's critics say that his game has stifled Lamar Odom's. Well, Odom got the ball at the top of the key and in the post and only faced one-on-one coverage on most occasions because the defense zeroed in on Bryant. Phil Jackson did everything he could to give Odom a chance to do his thing offensively and Odom simply did not deliver the goods in game seven. The Lakers not named Bryant shot 24-75 from the field.

After the game, Barkley blamed Bryant for shooting too much in game six and in the first half of game seven and then criticized him for supposedly trying to prove a point by not shooting in the second half and hanging his teammates out to dry. Kenny Smith responded by correctly noting the unique and peculiar position that Bryant is in: his team needs his scoring, but when he shoots a lot he is criticized and when he doesn't shoot a lot he is criticized. Barkley brought up the deal that shipped Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat, noting that O'Neal's Heat advanced to the second round, while Bryant's Lakers have been eliminated. Can we have some context, please? The Heat are a second seeded team that lost their composure on numerous occasions and took six games to oust a Chicago Bulls team that barely made it to the playoffs; Bryant's Lakers are the only team in this year's playoffs to force a higher seeded team to play a seventh game. Let's see O'Neal and the Heat win a title--or even make it to the NBA Finals--before we revive the misguided notion that L.A. made a mistake not extending O'Neal's contract for maximum years at maximum dollars. If the Lakers and Heat were publicly traded commodities, the Lakers' stock would be going up and the Heat's stock would be plummeting.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:05 AM


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