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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Three-mendous: Peja's Long Range Bombing Destroys Lakers

Peja Stojakovic scored 36 points and Chris Paul had 19 points and a franchise-record 21 assists as the New Orleans Hornets improved to 4-0 with a 118-104 road win over the L.A. Lakers, who dropped to 2-2. Stojakovic set a franchise-record and a personal best by making 10 three pointers, two off of the NBA record that is shared by Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall. David West did solid work in the paint for the Hornets (22 points, eight rebounds) and even showed his range by stepping out to make a couple three pointers. Bryant finished with 28 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three blocked shots, shooting 11-20 from the field. Ronny Turiaf added 15 points and seven rebounds as the starting center, while Andrew Bynum came off of the bench to contribute eight points and a game-high 13 rebounds. The biggest problem for the Lakers in this game is that they repeatedly left Stojakovic open to double-team Paul when Paul drove into the lane. Lakers analyst Stu Lantz stated the obvious: you cannot give uncontested looks to a pure shooter like Stojakovic. The flip side of that is that Paul is not a great shooter (7-18 in this game), so his defender should be laying off of him and forcing him to shoot jump shots. As Lantz said after the game, the Lakers made a lot of mental errors during this game. Another thing that handicapped the Lakers is that Lamar Odom, Kwame Brown and Maurice Evans--three of their top eight rotation players--were on the inactive list.

Early in the game, Bryant drove to the hoop from the right wing, got to the rim but after shot blocker Tyson Chandler slid over Bryant attempted a wraparound pass to Chris Mihm that went out of bounds. "That's alright," said Lantz. "Obviously, you don't like any turnovers but if you're going to have them, have them be that kind where you're trying to help one of your teammates." Another reason that this was a "good" turnover is that the ball went out of bounds, so the Hornets had to inbound the ball and attack against a set defense. This is exactly the kind of thing I meant when I talked about how statistical analysis of basketball only captures some of the "what" and none of the "how": you can chart a player's shooting percentage or turnover rate but those numbers don't tell you if the player creates his own shots or spots up, nor do they tell you if he is a careless ballhandler, a non-ballhandler who is simply sloppy with the ball on the few occasions that he gets it or a playmaker who handles the ball a lot and makes a lot of productive plays as a scorer and/or distributor.

Bryant did a lot of passing early in the game as the Hornets sprinted out to an 18-8 lead. Bryant did not attempt a field goal or free throw until there was 3:29 left in the first quarter, when his jumper pulled the Lakers to within 22-17. Just before that, Melvin Ely pushed Turiaf to get an offensive rebound but Bryant flew in out of nowhere to block his layup. If he has a chance, Bryant seems to be trying to block shots lefthanded due to his right wrist injury but this was a bang-bang play and Bryant had to use his right hand. Early in the season, Bryant is spending a lot of time in the paint, helping out on the boards and blocking shots; this is something that I anticipated during the preseason when I suggested that Bryant may rue losing so much weight during the offseason because the team's depleted frontcourt sans Odom will need some help from him on the boards.

Bryant finished the first quarter with four points on 2-3 shooting and the Lakers trailed 32-22. Jordan Farmar scored the Lakers' last three points by making a jumper and a free throw after Bobby Jackson fouled him right before time expired. Paul had six assists in the quarter, all of them in the first 5:44.

The Lakers' second unit made a good run early in the second period, cutting the Hornets' lead to 36-32 but New Orleans rebuilt the margin to 44-35. Bryant then returned to action after sitting out for the first part of the quarter. He made a hard baseline drive, missed a contested layup but got the offensive rebound and scored just before the 24 second clock expired. Then he made a jumper to cut the lead to 44-39. The teams traded baskets for the next few minutes. With 2:21 remaining, Bryant drove to the middle from the left wing and then whipped a gorgeous off the dribble pass to Turiaf, whose two handed dunk cut the New Orleans lead to 51-47. Later, a double-teamed Bryant lobbed a crosscourt pass to Walton, who buried a three pointer to make the score 55-52 New Orleans. With nine seconds left in the half, Bryant suckered Paul into fouling him behind the three point line and then he drained all three free throws, trimming the Hornets' lead to 57-55 at the half. Bryant had 11 points (4-7 field goal shooting, 3-3 free throw shooting), five rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots, while Paul had eight points and seven assists for the Hornets.

The Lakers went up 68-63 by the 7:55 mark in the third quarter and still led 72-68 with 5:19 remaining; Bryant contributed four points and four assists in the first 6:41 of the period. Then the Hornets used a 10-3 run to take a 78-75 lead. Bryant converted a three point play to tie the score at 78, but the Hornets used an 11-2 burst to go up 89-80 heading into the fourth quarter. Stojakovic scored 17 points in the period, shooting 5-7 from three point range as the Lakers inexplicably left him wide open several times.

The Lakers' bench cut the Hornets' lead to 91-87 early in the fourth quarter. Bryant returned to the game at the 6:59 mark with the Lakers trailing 96-89. He hit a three pointer to get the Lakers to within 100-94 but they never got closer than that the rest of the way as the Hornets drained three three pointers in the final 3:06. The Lakers executed their offense poorly down the stretch and also had numerous defensive breakdowns.

***Notes***

Hornets Coach Byron Scott was Bryant's teammate when Bryant first came into the league and Scott knew right from the beginning that Bryant was cut from a different kind of cloth than most NBA players: "Kobe was the one who was in the back of the bus reading Time Magazine. He wasn't reading the sports pages. So you could tell from a mental standpoint that he was a little bit farther ahead than an 18-year-old, and he already had goals and knew what he wanted to do. He point-blank told be one day when I asked him 'How do you want to be perceived in this league?' he said, 'I want to be the best player in this league.' I think he's been able to accomplish that goal."

This is not the first time that Scott has expressed such sentiments about Bryant. Last season, Scott offered this recollection of Bryant's early years in the league: "He and I would sit down and talk about the '80s teams, the championship teams we had. [Bryant] wanted to know how good we were, what did it take for us to win, why were we so successful. All the questions that are normally asked by guys that are 20-something, not 18. I would expect an 18-year-old to ask where do we party, how are the girls in L.A. He didn't care about that. He just wasn't a regular 18-year-old kid. I knew that. He was very mature, already had in his mind pretty much what he wanted to accomplish. I remember we did an interview together in his rookie year. I called Kobe over and told the guys doing the show, 'You see this kid? He's going to be the best player in the league.' Three or four years later, I thought he was. To this day I still do...He has the competitive edge just like Magic [Johnson]. Whatever it was going to take to win, he was going to get it done."

posted by David Friedman @ 3:29 AM

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