It’s almost game-time, which means the hype is nearing an end. Oh, and the winner of Ron Artest’s raffle for his championship ring has been selected. The name will be announced after the game, at around 5:30 this evening. Or whenever Artest gets to the Conga Room.
Kobe Bryant declined to speak today. Again. That’s three days without a word from him. I don’t know whether to be upset that I haven’t heard his pearls of wisdom or pleased by his unwillingness to submit to the circus that has gathered at the Lakers’ practice facility the last few days. Anyway, one of my colleagues was in the midst of a windy question to Lakers coach Phil Jackson about Miami coach Erik Whatshisface when Jackson said, “Oh, I think he’s going to be the Coach of the Year.” Everyone laughed except the reporter who asked the question, which made me laugh even harder. Merry Christmas everyone!
The mass of reporters gathered at the Lakers’ practice facility seemed to run out of steam early today while looking for angles on the team’s possible NBA Finals preview with the Miami Heat on Christmas Day. Somebody asked Lakers coach Phil Jackson what it might have been like had Derek Fisher actually signed a contract with the Heat during the offseason. Jackson said he didn’t know how to answer since he never believed Fisher would really sign elsewhere. Somebody else asked Lamar Odom if being married changed his preparations for a Christmas Day game. Odom didn’t know how to answer, gazing at a couple of unmarried fellows in the crowd, who then said, “Don’t look at us for help.”
The buzzer was still ringing Tuesday night (or so it seemed, anyway) and the questions started flying about the Lakers’ matchup Saturday with the Miami Heat. This is bound to be the most-hyped regular-season game in the NBA since, well, ever. Leave it to Ron Artest to plea for a little reality check after the Lakers’ loss Tuesday to the Milwaukee Bucks.
“The fans, they dictate,” Artest explained. “The fans set the trends. The street sets the trends. The street dictates. This is what they’ve dictated (that the Lakers-Heat matchup has some extra sizzle). The media senses something. The media will follow what the fans are saying. It’s something the media and the fans think is important and it’s exciting. The fans think it deserves a lot of hype. But as players, you’ve got to play the game.”
Yes, that really was the final score of tonight’s game between the Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant scored 21 points and then got ejected for beefing about an offensive foul with the game all but over. His day didn’t start out too hot either. According to Lakers coach Phil Jackson, Bryant was involved in a car crash on the way to the morning shootaround and arrived about 30 minutes late. All in all, it wasn’t much of a tuneup for the Lakers’ Christmas Day showdown against the Miami Heat.
Back at home after going 5-1 on their trip, the Lakers looked as sluggish as the traffic on the Harbor Freeway heading home on a rainy afternoon. Their motors were running, but they weren’t making much progress. Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant scored 10 points apiece in the first half for the Lakers. Ersan Ilyasova scored 13 for Milwaukee, and Andrew Bogut scored 11. Milwaukee outrebounded the Lakers, 22-16.
Here’s a pretty on-the-mark assessment of the Lakers after their 5-1 trip to Chicago, New Jersey, Washington, Indiana, Philadelphia and Toronto: “It was a good trip. I mean, we didn’t play great basketball, but we won games. Ultimately, we want to get better and that’s what we work on going towards the playoffs. While we’re getting better, it’s nice to win games, because we want that home-court advantage once we get to the playoffs. So, winning five out of six is nice, but we need to be playing at a higher level than we’re playing at right now.”
TORONTO — The Lakers finished their six-game trip by winning the final five, including today’s easy-breezy victory over the Toronto Raptors. Kobe Bryant scored 20 points to lead six Lakers in double figures. Pau Gasol added 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists and Andrew Bynum scored 16 points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes. The Lakers return home to face the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday before their Christmas showdown with the Miami Heat at Staples.
TORONTO — Andrew Bynum looked a little more effective than in previous games, scoring eight points in the first half today against the undersized Toronto Raptors. Andrea Bargnani couldn’t play for Toronto because of a sore right ankle, so the Raptors were missing a 7-footer. This is Bynum’s fourth game since returning from offseason right knee surgery. He doesn’t have a lot of quickness around the basket and he’s not able to get off the floor fast enough to dunk over defenders. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan smacked him hard as he tried a second-quarter slam. Pau Gasol led the Lakers with 10 points in the first half. Amir Johnson, a former standout at Westchester High, had 12 on 6-for-9 shooting for Toronto.
TORONTO — Kobe Bryant had one of those electronic stimulation devices on his sprained right pinky when a group of beat reporters approached him after today’s practice. They jokingly asked if it was actually a lie-detector. Then they asked if Bryant, who was injured in the first quarter of the Lakers’ victory Friday at Philadelphia, would play Sunday against the Raptors. “You guys walked all the way over here to ask me that?” he asked, smiling to indicate he was having some fun with them. Bryant said he would indeed play. Sunday’s game in the finale of the Lakers’ six-game trip. They are 4-1 so far.