Kobe Bryant missed eight of his first nine shots and scored only four points, but the Lakers still held a 56-54 lead over the New Jersey Nets at halftime. The rest of the Lakers shot19-for-31 in the first half. Pau Gasol had 16 points and Andrew Bynum had 11 as the Lakers exploited their advantage over the Nets and rookie Brook Lopez in the paint. Devin Harris led the Nets with 16 points and Lopez had 12 points and seven rebounds.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson was amused (surprise!) when someone asked during his pregame session with reporters if there was too much nit-picking from the media in recent days and nights. After all, the Lakers went into their game Tuesday against the New Jersey Nets with an 11-1 record. They had to be doing something right, right?
Jackson had this to say:
“That’s what you guys do. What would you do if you didn’t write about those things? You couldn’t write everything positive, could you? It wouldn’t be any fun. It’s give and take. You have opponents. You have people who do things really well against you. You’re going to have some give and take in the game. You just hope to come out in the end with a point advantage.”
When asked if he was always positive during film sessions with his players, Jackson said:
“There’s a certain way to win. I have a certain style I like to see my teams play, so it’s something we keep emphasize. I have to (nit-pick), that’s what coaching is all about. But punditry? I don’t know.”
When asked if there was nit-picking going on while he coached the Chicago Bulls to a league-record 72 wins in 1995-96, Jackson said:
“I’m sure there was. Luc Longley couldn’t run the court. He wasn’t a scoring center. We didn’t have a post-up game. Those kinds of things. But you do what you can do with the talent you have. … You have to keep people interested, right?”
All of a sudden the Nets (6-6) are looking like a team that could make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference after beating Toronto on the road, then holding off the Clippers at home on Saturday.
Not bad for a team most people assumed was content to dump salary the next two years until LeBron James becomes a free agent in 2010.
Rookie center Brook Lopez is looking like one of the steals of last summer’s draft. He’s averaging 14.6 points and nine rebounds since becoming a starter five games ago.
Young point guard Devin Harris has been shredding people, averaging 23.2 points a game in the nine games he’s played this season. Harris went for 30 or more points three times last week.
Needless to say, the Lakers point guards will have their hands full again tonight.
Well, their defense could have been better in Sunday’s 118-108 win over Sacramento, but the bottom line was that they won again and improved their record to 11-1.
Veteran guard Derek Fisher did what a veteran is supposed to do after practice, lending some perspective to tamp down talk about the Lakers’ allegedly poor play during their win over the Kings. He told reporters after Monday’s practice:
“Winning has that ability to shift the focus toward team and it takes all the talk about individual stuff out of it, even though guys might go through struggles and ups and downs, you still get back to the point where you say, ‘We’re 11-1, who cares?’
“Nobody is going to hang his head down about his individual performance when your team is winning at the percentage we are. There’s an old saying that winning covers a multitude of sins. It does. It’s not until you lose and all of a sudden you’re the worst team in the world and this guy stinks and he can’t shoot and he can’t play defense and you suck at pick-and-roll defense, and all that stuff that comes out when you lose a game. But what we’d like to do is have that conversation be only every eight or nine. Eight or nine? Maybe we drop one, go ahead and talk about us, we’ll run off some more and we’ll try to get it back.”
Sometimes, it really does feel like the Lakers just flip a switch. Take tonight’s game for example. Sacramento is a decent team. In a couple of years I think they might be a very good team with some of the young guys Geoff Petrie and his staff have shrewdly assembled through the draft and free agency. But they really aren’t on the Lakers level at all yet.
So the Lakers toy with them for a half, then go on 12-0 run midway through the third quarter to break the game open 88-71.
With 44 seconds remaining in the third, Phil Jackson takes Kobe Bryant out of the game and you’re thinking it’s possible Kobe might even sit the rest of the game with the lead feeling rather comfortable.
But Sacramento, being a team full of young guys who like their coach and continue to play hard for him, keeps its energy up and whittles that lead all the way down to 105-101 with 6:17 to go.
The Lakers call timeout, and Phil Jackson brings the starters back in to close things out. Just like that the Lakers go on a 9-0 run to stretch the lead back to 114-101 and the crisis has been averted.
Seriously, sometimes it feels like they just flip a switch. Like Mariano Rivera has come in from the bullpen to start the 9th inning.
All of which is good and bad.
Good, because the Lakers seem to have the ability to completely dictate the game when they want to and more importantly know how to flip that switch any time they need to.
Bad, because even Mariano Rivera blows a save every once in a while and you don’t want to get in the habit of relying on that close-out ability to win games.
Said Kobe Bryant after the game:
“I’m not happy with this win. I felt like we didn’t particularly get better tonight,” Bryant said. “We could’ve played much more solid defensively.”
Pau Gasol seemed to agree.
“I think we could have played a lot better, with more consistency,” Gasol said. “Maintaining the focus for 48 minutes, that’s the biggest challenge we are going to face most of the games.
“We’re playing pretty well and (winning) pretty easily. We get good leads earl on in the game and tend to relax a little early. We’re letting teams back in the game and we’re letting teams just play their style and not trying to get out of their system. We still win, but we should leave this place with a better feeling.”
Yep, that was the same Bobby Brown.
The former Cal State Fullerton star had a career-high 21 points for the Sacramento Kings in their loss to the Lakers Sunday night. He made eight of 13 shots, dished out seven assists and generally made his way to the basket whenever he wanted.
Not bad for a guy who was playing in Germany last season at this time.
“What day is it? November 23rd? Last year I was probably in some small gym somewhere in Germany,” Brown said, with a little laugh.
But Brown wasn’t just collecting a paycheck while he was over there. He was learning about defense, pick-and-rolls, and how to be a professional point guard.
“My coach over there, Luka Pavicevic, helped me a lot,” Brown said. “Going over there was definitely worth it. I valued it a lot. We played against good teams, I travelled all around, it was good for a kid just coming out of college.”
When he came back to the United States over the summer, he’d taken a gigantic step forward. During the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Brown’s play began turning heads across the league.
New Orleans’ Chris Paul even called to help persuade him to sign with the Hornets and be his back-up. Warriors coach Don Nelson came to almost every one of his games. But in the end, it was the Kings who won his services, signing Brown to a two-year guaranteed deal.
The Kings made what could’ve been a blowout a little interesting at the end, cutting what had been a 19-point Lakers lead down to five points late in the fourth quarter and forcing Lakers coach Phil Jackson to put starters Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol back into the game. But the Lakers righted the ship and came away with the victory in the end.
A win is a win. And the Lakers aren’t perfect of course. But it certainly would’ve been nice not to have to put the starters back into the game late in the fourth quarter, as I’m sure Phil Jackson will tell us in just a few minutes when he does his postgame press conference.
If you’re watching tonight’s game, by now you’ve started wondering who exactly this Jason Thompson is? The rookie from Rider scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first half of the Lakers game against the Kings Sunday night.
That’s right, Rider. It’s a 6,000-student university in New Jersey.
Thompson played four years of college ball at Rider, which is pretty rare these days for a guy that ends up being picked No. 12 overall in the NBA Draft. But Thompson was pretty raw coming in and needed the time to develop.
I actually saw him play last spring when Rider came out to Cal State Northridge as part of ESPN’s Bracket Buster Tournament. There were about 18 NBA scouts there too. And I have to say, Thompson had a horrible game, scoring just 11 points in 30 foul-plagued minutes against a team with one player over 6-foot-9 in uniform.
Kings GM Geoff Petrie was one of the scouts in attendance. He was so unimpressed, he left at halftime.
Fortunately for the Kings, first impressions didn’t hold up. Thompson wowed them in workouts before the draft, as soon as he got into training camp, and played well enough in the first seven games of the year to earn a spot in the starting lineup.
“I like him,” Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. “He can play. He’s really athletic. He can defend two positions, small forward and power forward. But he’s got small forward skills.”
Vladimir Radmanovic’s right eye looks pretty bad. It’s filled with blood. It’s black and blue. But apparently, he can still see out of it well enough to shoot so he’s going to give it ago tonight in the Lakers game against the Sacramento Kings.
Vlade got poked in the eye by Denver’s Carmelo Anthony in Friday’s win over the Nuggets.
The Lakers were off Saturday, so Radmanovic doesn’t know exactly how well he’ll be able to shoot with the large orange protective sunglasses he needs to wear. But he thinks it will be OK.
While his teammates are sympathetic, his gruesome looking eye has been an easy target for jokes in the locker room.
Lamar Odom’s locker is right near Vlade’s and as reporters came over to ask about the injury, LO cracked, “I told you to stop messing with me, Vlad.”
DJ Mbenga said he thought Vlad was going to look like U2 frontman Bono tonight.
Vlad himself probably had the best description of the injury, “Very vampirish,” he said, while pointing to the bloody corner of his eye.