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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Surprise, Surprise: Lakers Totally Eclipse Suns

Kobe Bryant is a distraction--not to the Lakers but to the Chicago Bulls, whose fans chanted his name as their team fell to 0-2 with a 96-85 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Meanwhile, Bryant had 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals as the Lakers delivered the stunner of the first few days of the 2007-08 season, routing Phoenix 119-98 in the Suns' home opener. Bryant (+27), Jordan Farmar (+26) and Derek Fisher (+19) had the three best plus/minus ratings in this contest. In more conventional terms, Fisher scored 14 points on 7-9 shooting, while Farmar had eight points and three assists off the bench. Vladimir Radmanovic led the Lakers with 19 points and Andrew Bynum added 14 points and 13 rebounds as the Lakers annihilated the Suns 54-34 on the boards; Shawn Marion had 10 rebounds, Brian Skinner grabbed eight, Boris Diaw had five and no other Sun had more than three. Leandro Barbosa led Phoenix with 23 points. Steve Nash scored 19 points on 7-15 shooting but had just three assists, one steal and no rebounds while committing five turnovers. Stoudemire shot 2-10 from the field and finished with seven points and one rebound.

Early in the game, ESPN color commentator Hubie Brown agreed with Houston's Shane Battier, who said of Bryant that he never takes off even one possession in a 48 minute game. However, right after that, ESPN sideline reporter Ric Bucher described Bryant warming up by himself before the game and concluded his report by solemly intoning, "Whether he is showing it on the court or not, there is clearly a separation between he and the rest of the Lakers." Play by play announcer Dan Shulman then asked Brown if a team can be successful despite such a separation (never mind that how a player warmed up before one game hardly proves that there is such a separation). Brown replied sensibly, "Listen, that happens on a lot of great teams, depending upon how good that player is. Kobe Bryant is the number one player in this league. He is going to come out here and show everybody. Until management takes either a no trade (stance) or Kobe himself decides that he does not want to be traded, this is going to be fodder for the media. The big thing is, night in and night out, he is going to come out and show you that he is the number one player in the league."

Phoenix took an early 8-2 lead but the Lakers then went on a 17-4 run, with Fisher scoring eight points and Bryant scoring seven points; apparently, it does make a difference to have a legitimate point guard who not only puts defensive pressure on Nash but who also forces Nash to have to guard him--call it the anti-Smush Parker effect (Parker was a defensive sieve while shooting 2-13 from the field in the Lakers' five game loss to the Suns in last year's playoffs). By the end of the first quarter, the Lakers led 33-20. The Suns briefly cut the margin to nine in the second quarter but the Lakers eventually went up by as much as 17 before settling for a 63-50 halftime lead. The Lakers blew the game wide open in the third quarter, taking a 90-61 lead after Bryant fed Ronny Turiaf for a dunk. Bryant sat out the last 13:42 of the game.

It's such a shame for the know-it-all pundits that Kobe Bryant can go out and attempt 27 free throws in the first game of the season to refute questions about his commitment and that he can lead his team to a blowout road win against one of the top teams in the West despite his injured wrist and without the services of Lamar Odom, the Lakers' second best player. So many media members constructed their anti-Bryant stories with such care, only to have the cold, hard results of the basketball games--nationally televised for everyone to see--refute their "analysis."

It is fascinating to watch tremendous talent honed to a razor's edge sharpness by hard work. As much as people try to hate Bryant, he is so exceptional that at the end of the day he inevitably earns people's respect. In the Lakers' home opener, fans booed him at the start of the game but chanted his name at the end as he almost delivered victory from the jaws of defeat. On Friday, Phoenix' fans predictably booed Bryant at the start of the game but by the end they were booing their own team, a reversal of fortune perhaps even more shocking than the stark and completely unexpected verdict displayed on the scoreboard.

posted by David Friedman @ 7:37 AM

6 comments

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6 Comments:

At Saturday, November 03, 2007 4:23:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

It was funny watching Fisher abuse Nash.

If Bynum can develop some consistency, the Lakers may make some noise this year. I really like the way he plays in the low post with his back to the basket. Refreshing. He can also rebound in traffic and block shots. The problem is, he seems to be much more comfortable coming off the bench than starting, and I'm not sure how much longer it's gonna take for him to take that next step.

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 4:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, are you as tired of Ric Bucher as I am. He spent the entire summer saying Kobe would never play in a Lakers uniform again. Then the daily Kobe trade rumors that never bear out or are insane (Kobe for Ben Wallace and Ron Artest). Last night he was constantly preaching about how awful this Lakers team is while they were destroying the Suns. I think he wants Kobe traded more than Kobe.

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 9:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

kobe didnt play well but they won anyway they played great suns didnt just one of those games it happens sometimes. the question will be if the lakers role players could play consistent like this all the time we know kobe gonna bring not alwys high percentage but he has brought it. so well see what happens with the role players consistently the lakers are bette than people think and kobe is not as selfish as people think. he wasnt warming up with teamates he has always done that thats nuthing new thats how kobe is kindof intreverted like that. the suns will play better stoudamire is the key nash is going to be good but i dont know if age is catching up with him now, marion is a great player still no question suns will be there to me at the end i dont know about lakers but they play suns well for some reason.

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 10:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I don't want to make the mistake of reading too much into this Lakers win, just like I didn't read much into the Cavaliers' opening loss. However, I don't want to read too little into it, either. Fisher's performance underscores why I was so critical of Smush and the other Laker point guards in recent seasons; a good, solid pg who can score as well as challenge Nash by playing good defense is a real asset and greatly lightens Kobe's load. Questions about how good the Suns would be without Nash or what would happen if Nash and Kobe switched places are amusing; Dallas replaced Nash with Jason Terry, who is not even an All-Star, and the Mavs improved. Does anybody believe that the Lakers could replace Kobe with Jason Terry (or a shooting guard equivalent if you want to make the trade by position) and improve? Mike D'Antoni likes to joke that he will retire at the same time as Nash so no one will know whether to credit Nash or the system for the team's success but, like all jokes, there is a grain of truth in there.

Bynum has obvious tools, including good hands, good size and aggressiveness. Whether he will ever bring those tools game in and game out is more difficult to assess.

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 10:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I wonder if ESPN pressures its reporters to make their coverage more sensationalistic or outlandish. I don't recall Bucher being this way at first.

Last night he really seemed to be trying to create controversy where there is none. I was surprised to see Kobe hug Bucher after their postgame interview. I wonder what Kobe will think of Bucher once he gets word about how Bucher was blasting him from the start of the game. Like I said in the post, it's too bad for the media that the actual games have gotten in the way of their carefully crafted storylines--not that they will let the truth get in the way of their coverage. You have to really appreciate Hubie Brown for not buying into the nonsense for even one second. Brown always tells it like it is and never dumbs things down.

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 10:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Kobe did not have a great shooting game but he also did not shoot that often (at least compared to his usual amount of attempts). Other than shooting, it is not correct to say that he did not play well. He had 11 rebounds as a shooting guard, made several great passes and was very active defensively. His mere presence attracts frequent double teams, which open up opportunities for others. Notice that his +/- numbers were the best on the team, indicating that he played a key role in the win.

The Lakers have some talented players but the question is what kind of focus and effort they will bring on a nightly basis. Other than Kobe, they are not more talented at any position than the teams that finished ahead of them last year, so they have to play hard and smart every night to have a chance.

Last year, people tried to cite a couple Laker wins without Kobe to prove that the team is better without him. Does this win mean that the Lakers don't need Odom? Of course not. A team can rise up for a game or not but over a long haul you need all hands on deck to have sustained success. The Lakers need a healthy and productive Odom plus focused, consistent effort from the rest of the roster.

 

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