Chicago guard Derrick Rose was named the NBA’s rookie of the year. That was a no-brainer, although I’m sure some pundit out there somewhere found some nits to pick with Rose’s game. I couldn’t find anything wrong with the man’s game with a microscope. He was my pick. O.J. Mayo of Memphis, the former USC standout, was second. Brook Lopez of the New Jersey Nets was third. Liked what I saw of Mayo. Less crazy about Lopez, but I only watched him play a couple of times. Nets don’t get a lot of TV time and the Lakers faced them only twice, so I’ll have to take my colleagues’ word for it.
The Lakers defeated the Utah Jazz, 119-109, in Game 2 tonight to take a 2-0 series lead. They lost the second half for the second consecutive game, however. They built a 20-point lead in the first half for the second straight game and failed to hold it. They had moments of indecision, but didn’t collapse entirely. They never trailed in the game.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson faulted his players for almost letting a 22-point lead slip away in Game 1 on Sunday. He blamed himself for the Lakers’ inability to maintain a 20-point lead tonight in Game 2, however.
“I think it was my fault,” Jackson said. “Substitution probably hurt us a little bit in the course of the game and I think that I tried to play too many players at that time in the game to get us going, which created a little bit of hesitancy.”
Utah outscored the Lakers by 60-51 in the second half of Game 1.
The Jazz also outscored the Lakers, 54-53, in the second half of Game 2.
Orlando’s Dwight Howard won the NBA’s defensive player of the year award today, beating out LeBron James of Cleveland and Dwyane Wade of Miami. Shane Battier and Ron Artest of Houston were fourth and fifth. Chris Paul of New Orleans was sixth followed by the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Boston’s Kevin Garnett. Just an opinion, but I’ll take Howard, Battier, Artest, Bryant and a healthy Garnett on my DEFENSIVE team any day of the week.
The Wall Street Journal does its best to explain why the Lakers are the No. 1 sports franchise in town. The article make a few good points, including the fact that Southern California is a hotbed of basketball, from the high schools to the colleges. The story also points out that the team crosses cultural and ethnic lines, uniting a region that’s not easy to unite. It fails to acknowledge the team’s great success in the 1960s and ’70s, however. It points to the arrival of Magic Johnson and Jerry Buss as the start of the nexus. Don’t believe it. The Lakers were huge here in the days of Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. The Dodgers and Rams were big in those days, too. But there was a special bond between the Lakers and the Southland that dates to the 1960s.
Anyway, here’s a sample of the story:
“The team’s domination of the Southern California sports market began in earnest when the charismatic Mr. Johnson arrived in 1979 and soon led the Lakers to their second championship since the team moved from Minneapolis in 1960. That same year, Dr. Buss, who bought the team with money he earned investing in apartment buildings as a graduate student, made himself a fixture at the hottest nightclubs, building his own star power and giving away tickets to actors, actresses and other beautiful people he knew would draw crowds, regardless of the team’s performance. In the 1980s under head coach Pat Riley, the Lakers appeared in the NBA Finals eight times and won five titles.
“After the team’s attendance slumped in the early 90s, Hollywood provided a rebound. Hoping to increase revenue, the NBA sent two executives to Los Angeles to coordinate product placement, ink movie deals and build relationships with studios. Shane Duffy, then the NBA’s director of entertainment marketing, began inviting directors, producers, writers and actors like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler to join a private, invitation-only league officiated by NBA referees now known as the “E league,” where they could play with each other and sometimes NBA greats. They were also given prime seats at nationally televised Lakers games.”
Actually, the arrival of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in deft moves by then-GM West probably had a little bit more to do with the Lakers’ rejuvenation in the 1990s than some double-dribble league featuring Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler. After a break-in period, Bryant and O’Neal led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles to start this decade.
Cleveland’s Mike Brown was a runaway choice for the NBA’s coach of the year in voting by media members. Brown easily outdistanced runner up Rick Adelman of Houston Stan Van Gundy of Orlando was third. In a sign of things to come, Lakers coach Phil Jackson finished eighth with only one first-place vote. I think it was mine, but I can’t remember. Hey, give me a break, the playoffs are here. I can’t remember what I had for lunch. Anyway, Brown’s win probably will be followed shortly by LeBron James’ selection as the league’s MVP, ending Kobe Bryant’s reign. That’s probably justified since James had to do more to get Cleveland to the top overall spot in the NBA. Bryant’s supporting cast is much better.
Remember a couple of months back when ex-Lakers guard Smush Parker took a couple of jabs at Kobe Bryant on some local cable access show in New York? Or at least, it had the look of something out of Wayne’s World. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is Parker ripped into Bryant, essentially calling him a bad teammate.
Bryant got a bit of a payback today at practice.
Here’s the setup, former Daily News beat man Ross Siler, now covering the Utah Jazz for the Salt Lake Tribune, asked Bryant if he believed Utah’s Deron Williams was in the same tough spot as Bryant was several seasons ago. You know, having to go it solo because of a lackluster supporting cast.
Bryant: “What I’m saying is that he has a little bit better cast than I did. It’s not dire straits for him. But if you’re asking if I feel bad for him? Absolutely not. No way.”
Siler: “So he should just keep his head down?”
Bryant: “Yeah, just continue to play. They have some talented players there. They have a great coach. They’ll be fine. … It’s not even close. They don’t even have Smush Parker on their team. It’s not even close.”
Siler: “You guys never lost to a seven-player Golden State team with a bunch of D-Leaguers (as the Jazz did a couple of weeks ago).”
Bryant: “That’s because I had to score 80 or we would have lost to Toronto, man.”
Actually, it was 81, but who’s counting.
Utah coach Jerry Sloan praised the Lakers after Game 1, and bashed his team. Here’s some of what he had to say after the Lakers defeated the Jazz,113-100, today:
“We gave up 62 points in the first half and it’s virtually impossible to beat this team(the Lakers) if you give them that kind of an edge. … They’re leaving us open for a reason, because we’re not great shooters. We haven’t proved we can make a shot. When we stayed in our offense and executed that, I felt were at least able to make them play us a little more. They didn’t have to play us the way we started off the ballgame.
“We kind of looked like deer in the headlights to start the game. I was really kind of shocked that we would play that way. Some of our guys are young guys. Hopefully, we’re going to learn. We have to play four games and, hopefully, we get better each time we play them. I thought our effort was good. Some of the mistakes we made, at both ends of the floor, were something we need to do a much better job of. We were obviously shorthanded out there and then we get shorter when we have to substitute. They’re a big, long team. We can’t seem to make our guys taller. If I could do that, we’d be a little bit better off.
“But give them credit. They know how to play. They’re a terrific team. They’re a very intelligent basketball team. They’re an intelligent team because they put you in situations and if you can’t handle them, you see what happens. We couldn’t handle some of them, particularly on the offensive end of the court. And defensively, they’re very, very good. ”
The Jazz refused to go quietly, cutting the Lakers lead to 107-98 with 1:46 to go, but there was no way the Lakers were losing this one. Kobe Bryant punctuated the Game 1 win with an emphatic dunk over Paul Millsap, Ariza hit another 3-pointer and the Lakers ran off the court to a cascade of confetti with a series-opening win.
The Jazz made some good adjustments at half time and were able to cut the 22-point halftime lead down to single digits, but the Lakers –or rather, Trevor Ariza — had an emphatic answer. Ariza’s steal and jaw-dropping reverse dunk off a fast break stretched the lead back to 76-63 with 2:42 to go.
Kobe Bryant decided it was time to score after spending the first quarter getting his teammates involved. Bryant hit four of five shots in the second quarter, leading the team with nine points. Lamar Odom had his own dunk contest, slamming home two jams to help the Lakers extend their lead. By halftime, the game started to get away from the Jazz as they fell behind by 22 points. You just can’t shoot 32 percent against the Lakers at Staples Center and expect to win.