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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Suns Outlast Lakers, 93-85

Kobe Bryant shot just 7-26 from the field as the L.A. Lakers fell to the Phoenix Suns, 93-85; he finished with 17 points, six rebounds and four assists. If you ever wondered what would have happened to the Lakers in March if Bryant had not shot the lights out and averaged over 40 ppg, the answer came during this game--and it was not pretty. Meanwhile, Steve Nash had an outstanding performance, shooting 10-16 from the field, scoring 26 points with 14 assists and just one turnover. The Suns only had eight turnovers and the Lakers committed just nine, but--other than Nash--both teams shot horribly: 34-89 (.382) for Phoenix, 35-89 (.393) for L.A. The game was decided at the free throw line, where the Suns shot 18-20 (.900) and the Lakers shot 8-12 (.667). Bryant, who normally attempts 10 free throws per game, shot 2-2. The Lakers trailed by as many as 16 in the second half but rallied to get as close as five points. The Lakers gave a valiant effort in the second game of a back to back against a superior team but, as ESPN analyst Hubie Brown might say, "Nobody outside of Lakerland cares about that." The end result was a loss--and potentially a very damaging one at that. The Clippers and Warriors are right behind the Lakers, who have not clinched a playoff berth yet; they have just two games remaining and risk falling out of the postseason picture if they don't get their ship righted in a hurry.

How bad was the shooting in this game? Amare Stoudemire had a double-double (15 points, 16 rebounds), but shot 4-16 from the field. Shawn Marion scored 16 points and had 11 rebounds, but shot 7-18 from the field. The leading candidate for the Sixth Man Award, Leandro Barbosa, shot 3-10 from the field and scored only eight points. Luke Walton was one bright spot for the Lakers, leading the team with 19 points while shooting 8-17 from the field. He also had eight rebounds and five assists. Lamar Odom shot 7-19 from the field and 1-4 from the free throw line, finishing with 16 points, 13 rebounds and no assists.

The Smush Parker era seems to be rapidly drawing to a close in L.A. He shot 0-4 from the field in just 16 minutes of "action," contributing one rebound and one assist while watching Nash blow by him for 11 first quarter points on 5-5 shooting. Parker made only a cameo appearance in the second half and was on the bench when the Lakers made their comeback in the fourth quarter. Parker jacked up a long jumper on the Lakers' first possession of the third quarter, missing badly. Brown was not impressed: "You're on the road, you had a bad first half, so do not come out and rush a long jump shot to start the second half. Smush Parker has got to understand who he is, what his role is on the team--and if you don't want to play within what we're doing, then we'll put someone else in that spot." Jackson did just that within a few minutes and Sasha Vujacic's defense on Nash played a key role in the Lakers' comeback that fell just short.

Dissatisfied with the production that the Lakers have been getting at center, Phil Jackson started Ronny Turiaf instead of Andrew Bynum. Turiaf is a high energy bench player who is not accustomed to starting or playing big minutes, but he turned in a very solid 10 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots in 29 minutes. Bynum may have drawn some motivation from the benching, because he responded with eight points and four blocked shots in just 19 minutes.

In many ways, this game was a microcosm of the Lakers' season, the main and obvious difference being Bryant's wayward shooting. The Suns defended him very well, their primary strategy being to double-team him whenever he got the ball. Bryant forced a couple shots, but for the most part he missed shots that he normally makes, including a few that went in and came back out. He was not able to split the double-teams very often, so Bryant spent a lot of the game drawing an extra defender and then passing to the open man; his shot attempts came in transition, off of screen and roll plays or on quick hitting moves before the double-team arrived. How can I say that he spent "a lot of the game" passing when Bryant attempted 26 shots and had four assists? Simple. I watched the game and charted what he did. Bryant's shots came from his normal areas--the post, the elbow and some dribble penetrations in the lane. What about the six three pointers, of which he made just one? One of those was a heave to beat the first quarter buzzer. Two others came in the last 36 seconds when the Lakers were trailing by five or six points. So when "Joe Expert" tells you that Bryant shot too many threes all game long and did not attack the defense, you can inform him that Bryant shot 1-3 on three pointers other than those three desperation shots. Brown noted early in the game that even though Bryant was not hitting his shots he was making things happen off of the dribble and taking shot attempts from high percentage areas. Near the end of the first quarter, Bryant drove to the hoop, drew two defenders and passed to Odom for a layup that put the Lakers up 23-22. Brown said of Bryant, "He'll give it up anytime he's in the post area or off the dribble down in the paint. Anytime he gets double-teamed--that time he was triple-teamed--he'll find the free guy."

An interesting sequence happened near the end of the second quarter. Odom unleashed a contested air ball from beyond the three point line, leading to this comment from Brown: "You had Kobe Bryant posting on one side and Luke Walton cutting through (with Barbosa pinned on his hip) and you miss both guys and end up with an airball." On the Lakers' next possession, Bryant initiated the offense, driving to the hoop and drawing two defenders, then passing to Odom for a wide open three pointer that he made, his only successful three pointer of the game. No matter how poorly Bryant may shoot in a given game, teams will still double-team him and he can still create open shots for his teammates that would otherwise not be there.

The Lakers led by as much as seven points in the first quarter and kept the game close throughout the first half, trailing only 51-50 at halftime. Nash abused the Lakers--mostly Parker--for 15 points on 7-10 shooting in the first half, adding seven assists. Bryant scored 13 points on 5-15 shooting and had four rebounds and three assists. The big story for the Lakers was that they finally got some production from someone other than Bryant: Walton had 11 points on 5-9 shooting, Bynum had six points on 3-4 shooting and Vujacic scored five points on 2-2 shooting. However, those three players shot just 3-12 in the second half.

The game began to slip away from the Lakers in the third quarter. Odom committed three fouls in six minutes and shot just 1-4 from the field and 1-4 from the free throw line as the Suns took a 67-56 lead. The Lakers stayed close in the first half even with Bryant shooting poorly because his presence created open shots for others. As Brown put it during the telecast, "Kobe Bryant is a great passer and when you add Walton you have two guys on the floor who can create. Lamar Odom can always be your third distributor." The Lakers fell behind when the offense was run through Odom in the early part of the third quarter. I understand and respect that Odom is playing despite having an injured left (shooting) shoulder; my point is simply that this Lakers team is not nearly as good as the Lakers team of a year ago, which ended the season strongly and almost upset Phoenix in the first round. Odom is banged up, Kwame Brown is out of the lineup and Walton seems to be just returning to form. Meanwhile, Bryant may be worn down from the load that he has carried since the All-Star break.

One more observation about the Lakers and then I'll turn my attention to the Suns. Late in the third quarter, Bryant drew a double-team and passed to Walton, who immediately swung the ball to a wide open Maurice Evans. Instead of shooting a rhythm jumper, Evans hesitated and then missed a contested fadeaway. Hubie Brown made an important observation: "He had a wide open shot. In situations like that out of double teams, when the ball comes to you on the second pass, you have to be ready to shoot." That has been one of my biggest criticisms of Bryant's teammates: they are either unwilling or unable to make the open shots that result from him being double-teamed. The problem is neither that Bryant shoots too much nor that he passes too little; it is that his teammates don't take advantage of playing four on three. Yes, Bryant shot poorly in this particular game, but that is an aberration, because he's been putting up 35-40 ppg or more for the last 40 games, shooting a good percentage plus contributing rebounds and assists; the failure of his teammates to take advantage of open shots is a season-long theme. On the next possession after Evans' miss, Bryant put his head down, drove to the hoop and attempted a running bank shot, which caromed wildly off of the glass. "It's not in the cards for him tonight," Brown said simply after that play. When Bryant came off of the court at the end of the quarter, he and Jackson talked briefly. I don't know what was said but my guess would be that Jackson asked about that shot and Bryant answered something to the effect of "What am I supposed to do? When I give the ball up, no one wants to shoot."

The bottom line is that the Lakers simply are not a very good team now. If they make it to the playoffs they will likely get swept, unless they somehow find a way to start playing the way that they did last April and May. What about Phoenix? This was an important home game for the Suns, who are trying to hold off the charging Spurs and keep the second seed in the West. The Lakers are discombobulated and even Bryant could not bail them out on this night--but it was just a five point game with 1:58 remaining in the fourth quarter. Why couldn't the Suns put this team away? Two reasons: (1) The Suns shot just 7-25 from three point range. Their running attack is fueled not by layups but by long jumpers. If the Suns have a bad shooting night from beyond the arc then they are not going to blow anyone out, even a flawed team like the Lakers. (2) The Suns have been accused of being a poor defensive team but point differential is one of Hubie Brown's favorite stats--dating back to his coaching days--and he mentioned more than once that the Suns have an excellent point differential. They are clearly making a strong effort to play defense and they have enough quick players to bother people on the perimeter. The problem is that Phoenix is soft in the middle and no amount of effort is going to change that. Anytime the Lakers sent someone in the post they did damage: Bynum, Walton, Odom and Bryant got a lot of their points on postups. Jackson called this the "Inside Man" strategy (named after the Spike Lee movie) during last year's playoffs and it almost enabled the Lakers to knock off the Suns. The Lakers are too out of whack to pull that off this year, but the first team that shuts down the Suns' three point attack and pounds the ball in the paint on offense will eliminate Phoenix from this year's playoffs. The Utah Jazz have been slumping recently but they have done well against Phoenix this year and they play the Suns on Saturday night; it will be interesting to see if the Jazz are able to do those two things against the Suns.

posted by David Friedman @ 8:52 AM



At Saturday, April 14, 2007 1:03:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

the lakers arent very good kobe cant be forcing shots but if other guys cant make shots it's not his fault the lakers dont look good there going to get swept gotta think if jordan was on this team they wouldnt get swept in the playoffs they would go depin the playoffs bird and magic too or wilt chamberlin kobe has as much talent and may be better than all of them individualy but as the team goes or intangibles it's not even close thats where kobe lacks he cant push guys like those other four guys could he doesnt garner that type of respect look at what shaq did without wade he's 35 years old with nuthing around them and thy go like 17-6 when everybody thought they wouldnt make the playoffs and there season was over. and you could say there playing with more talent but when bird left in 88-89 they went from 57 wins 87-88 to 42 88-89 when magic left in 91 they won 58 games 90-91 went to the finals the next year they won 43 games, jordan teams won 3 straight championships then they only made it to the second round the first year he retired. wilt team were no longer contenders either after he left. earlier this season with no shag the heat were like 8 games under 500 thats impact kobe has not done that yet thats the last step of being great you start 27-14 and you only win 40 games there no excuse for that the all time greats that didnt happen to them if kobe wants to be with them which i hope he will he has to become a better leader and not let stuff like this happen.

At Saturday, April 14, 2007 1:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea that any of those players possess some kind of magical/mystical ability to make poor players better than they are is nothing but wishful thinking.

If the fact that Kobe pours his heart into his game and kills himself regularly doesn't motivate these players to play with more passion, then they are hopeless.

As for Shaq possessing this magical ability:

He had Kobe and a cast of very talented role players and a great coach. The same happened with Wade; Wade is a great player-I don't consider him on the level of Kobe-and a solid cast of strong role players helped them win the title. There's no magic there; it's all about talent. Shaq alone couldn't have won a title, nor can any player realistically do it.

Michael started having more success in the playoffs once he got more talent around him like Scottie. Again, it all comes down to having proper balance in the team. If you have to rely on one player to do the majority of the scoring and to fill in stats in other areas, you're going to hurt badly when that player has an off night.

All we're seeing is how talent depleted the Lakers are, nothing more. There is no player in the NBA that could make this pack rise above their level. Kobe does enough in shouldering the majority of the burden; he doesn't need to coddle them.

What we need is for our front office to be more active in making moves and to stop waiting on projects to pan out. Kobe is such a rare type of player that it's silly to waste his prime.

At Saturday, April 14, 2007 3:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Temp OxOO:

You said a mouthful; very well put.

At Saturday, April 14, 2007 9:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny, but I remember Jordan getting swept out of the playoffs TWICE in his younger years. So much for his magical ability to always will his team deep into the playoffs.

At Saturday, April 14, 2007 9:13:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

shaq went 17-6 without wade look at miami without wade and just shaq it's just like kobe and the lakers one great great player a bunch of bums but they were on pace to win 56 games or so and kobe team got 40. Im not dissing kobe it's frustating seeing them lose games they should win memphis 3 times, bobcats twice, portland twice, teams that you should never lose to. this team has been together 3 years kobe lamar and walton either you trade lamar for garnett or artest or kobe has to become the leader that those other five guys i talked about the five greatest players of all time in my opinion were. of course the players are bird magic jordan shaq and wilt they galvanized they teamates they didnt have anything magical but they pushed there guys and instilled confidence in players that were just average not all of them but the role players. they had a certain presence that kobe hasnt showed he has yet maybe you and david are right it's that it's just not enough talent on the team and kupchak and bus will have tohelp him im just giving my opinion to the soloution.

At Sunday, April 15, 2007 12:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bird, Magic, Jordan, Shaq and Wilt are indeed five of the greatest players ever but when they won titles they were hardly burdened with the deficient supporting cast that Kobe has this year, a cast that has been further weakened by injuries to Odom, Walton, Brown and Radmanovic. Bird played with McHale and Parish, two HoFers. DJ should be one as well in many people's opinions. Magic played with Kareem, Worthy, Wilkes, Nixon, Scott, Cooper, McAdoo, etc. Jordan had Pippen, Rodman, Kukoc, Grant. Shaq had Kobe, plus excellent role players like Horry and Fisher. Wilt's '67 team had Cunningham, Greer, Luke Jackson--many consider that squad the greatest single season team of all-time.

Kobe is the best player in the game today but his supporting cast is too weak and too injury depleted to do any damage this season. They must add a real point guard and then either develop Brown or Bynum into a real center or else acquire one. They also need a deeper bench and a small forward who can score as a complement to Walton, who plays like a point-forward.

At Sunday, April 15, 2007 1:09:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

yeah but without bird, magic, wilt shaq and jordan they were just average teams they made them go shaq was 46-16 without kobe when he played with kobe those 8 years kobe was 500 without shaqwhen one of them were out. they played with the same players but two totally diffrent results david and temp bird's team 16 games worst magic team without him 16 games worse they had hall of famers but they werent as good when they werent there magic 90-91 had no kareem old worthy and scott and still got to the finals. the second year without jordan the bulls were falling apart before mj got back and they got to the second round. 1989-90 when bird came back they won 55 games without shag the heat was 8 games under 500 earlier this season they just went 17-6 with no wade before he came back shaq at 35 could get to the third round without wade cleavland aint that good and they almost beat detroit twice with no wade. those philadelphia teams were no more once wilt went to the lakers. there is no reason why you start 27-14 and nobody was complaining how bad those player were and know you go 13-26 and all of a sudden he's playing with high school players and he not playing with nothing nobody. and you continue to highlight his great games of 40 and 50 point games but im afraid thats all he is becoming a guy who has unbeliveble talent terrible teams that are never going nowhere. because at the end of the day it's about winning jordan is jordan because of 6 rings not 31 50 point games shaq is shaq because of his 60% winning percentage and never being knocked out of the first round and 4 rings not anything else, bird the 3 rings and 3 finals mvp's, magic is magic because of five rings 9 finals apperance in 12 seasons and 3 mvp's and 3 finals mvp,wilt had all the record individually like kobe but he did squeeze two rings in there as well he was playing against bill in the finals every year during that era. I always belived in kobe i think he wants to win and all but i just dont know right now it's like he puts up 50 and they lose his talent is going to waste. i personally belive that lebron will become a better player than kobe now i never wanted to admit that but got he just playing so great right now what can you say and they continue to win. kobe legacy will be defined on rings not how many 40 or 50point games he has scoring points means nuthing yo have to win championships thats what made the big five the big five winning championships

At Monday, April 16, 2007 1:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Lakers started 27-14 because the team was healthy and they had a lot of home games in the early part of the season. Then, several key players got hurt and the team had to go on the road. Also, Smush has developed a serious attitude problem. Don't underestimate how much his lack of production and bad attitude are affecting the team. Today the Lakers benched him and started Farmar, who has been shifting back and forth from the D-League. Kobe scored 50 on 18-25 shooting (!) as the Lakers clinched a playoff berth--how many guys can shoot 18-25 from the field when the whole team is trying to stop them because nobody else on the Lakers can do anything? Look up the percentages that other great players shot in their 50 point games; you won't find too many who shot 72% from the field. That's so good it looks like a typo or something--and he had eight rebounds, as a shooting guard, leading his team. I've never said that Kobe is as good as MJ but I will say that if MJ had a game like this it would get a lot more attention than Kobe's probably will. Kobe's so good that he makes getting 50 look routine.

Odom and Walton are still not healthy and likely would not even be playing if the team were not in such desperate straits. Your criticism of Kobe's scoring is completely misguided--the only time the Lakers are winning is when he scores a lot; their record is much worse when he doesn't score 40 or 50. Obviously, any team that loses Bird or Magic for any reason is going to be worse. What exactly do you think the Lakers' record would be if they lost Kobe? They've won 41 with one to go with him. I say they win 20 this year without him--maybe less. Heck, they need him to get 50-60 just to beat Memphis, the team with the worst record. That kind of proves my point.

Shaq has nothing around him? Really? Alonzo Mourning. Eddie Jones. Gary Payton (before he got hurt). Antoine Walker. James Posey. These guys (other than midseason acquisition Jones) are the veteran core that made big plays last year enroute to the title (obviously, Wade was the best player, but those guys all contributed). There are a lot of All-Star games between those guys. Yeah, they're old now but they still know how to play. How many All-Stars, former or otherwise, are on the Lakers, other than Kobe? Kobe's carried this Lakers team to 40+ wins in the West; he would have done a lot more with the Heat in the East than Wade did for 40-50 games without Shaq.

Jordan retired right before the season started. The Bulls had no opportunity to replace him (they signed Pete Myers, who couldn't even make the team in previous years). Yet they won just two fewer games than the previous year and were a bogus Hue Hollins call away from potentially making it to the Eastern Conference Finals. I don't know what this proves about Kobe, but you are missing a lot of important facts and context in your comments about Magic, Bird and Jordan. Kobe is a great player who has already won three rings. I don't know why Kobe's rings seem to get ignored more than anyone else's. He already has as many rings as Bird does--and three more than MJ did at the same age, by the way.

Kobe makes the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams regularly. He is NOT the reason that the Lakers have slumped in the second half. Whether or not he is as good as some of the 5 or 10 greatest players ever is a different discussion, so you are really talking about two things.

At Monday, April 16, 2007 1:40:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

A couple more points:

1) Shaq did not make the playoffs in '93 and lost in the first round in '94 (you said that he never lost in the first round). He also never won a title until he had a HoF coach (Jackson, then Riley) and an All-NBA guard (Kobe, then Wade). It takes a team to win titles. Look at the other teams around the NBA that have one star with no help: Memphis (Gasol), Minn (KG), Boston (Pierce). Those teams are all doing worse that Kobe is doing with the Lakers. If MJ in his prime played with this Lakers team their record would not be any better than it is now; he played on sub .500 teams when he had no help, but everyone seems to have forgotten that now.

2) The Bulls were not falling apart in the second season of MJ's retirement. They were above .500 despite injuries to several players and the loss of Horace Grant (free agent). They had won 8 of the previous 10 before MJ came back, as players returned to health. They lost MJ's first game but then closed the season with a good run.

At Monday, April 16, 2007 4:59:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

you missed a couple of things david shaq wasnt playing with nuthing when wade went down they went 17-6. those same players were with wade and they were 8 games under 500 all of suden shaq plays without wade they look like very good players eddie jones was at the end of the bench in memphis, payton is way old, alonzo played well, antoine was playing terrible till shaq came. kobe won as many championships as bird but he was robin, only batman rings count it's unfair but thats how it works the scottie pipen syndrome i call it so you cant put his rings with bird magic jordan they lead there teams to championships as batman not robin thats why people dont count them the same way as the big five david. you said if you dont have bird and magic of course youre not going to be as good? they were irrelavant when they left or got hurt thats why i said thats impact the lakers are worse without kobe but he hasnt had the same impact as those other guys so far he's only 28 he got time but he got to do it soon or he going to be a what coulda shoulda player and with his talen thats sad.

At Monday, April 16, 2007 5:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

How do you separate which players' rings count and which players' rings don't count? Was Kareem Batman or Robin, to use your terminology? Both he and Magic won Finals MVP awards in the 1980s. The reality is that the Celtics, Lakers and Bulls would not have won their titles without any of their main players: Bird, McHale and Parish were all vital, as were Magic, Kareem and Worthy and MJ and Scottie. Kobe was an All-NBA and All-Defensive Team player on those championship teams. You can say whatever you want but he was hardly just along for the ride--and he had big games and big moments throughout those playoff runs, including a Finals game against Indiana when he came back from a sprained ankle and took over when Shaq was out with foul trouble.

What did I miss about Shaq? You said that I predicted that Miami would do poorly when he came back and Wade went out and I referred you to a specific post that I made that in fact made the exact opposite prediction.

The bottom line is this: do you honestly believe that if you put Bird, Magic or MJ at their best on this Lakers team in place of Kobe that the team would really be any better than 41-40? I don't. This is a bad team. Superstar players are typically worth 15-20 wins or so. The Lakers would have won 20-25 games without Kobe. MJ played on sub .500 teams during his career and if he were on this team it would be right around the same record that it is now.

At Tuesday, April 17, 2007 9:48:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

member the lakers started 27-14 you trying to tell me with a straight face that mj or magic or larry or wilt or shaq even with this team would end up 41 and 40 i doubt it ill say 50 wins for each even with injuries because they had injuries before mchale 86 with the bad foot even without him and bird and the rest won 15 of 16 magic had players hurt throught out 91 playoffs still got to the finals shaq of course wade was out antwan been hurt gary hurt still went 17-6 injuries is part of the game no excuse and theyve been back for a month and still lost to teams they should never lose too memphis, portland, at home as well sacremento, houston game the recent clippers game . you cant say kobe does everything right and critize somebody if they say he does everything wrong kobe haters need middle ground and so do kobe lovers too im not saying bird magic jordan shaq and wilt did everything right but they definitely led right the lakers would be a 4 seed with those players and make it to the second round bow out there like they should this year.


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