Saturday, December 27, 2014
Blog

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Credit: Getty Images

“I bleed purple and gold”. The phrase is something countless fans have uttered throughout history to prove their allegiance to the once mighty Los Angeles Lakers.  With the slow start this year, the Lakers are 0-4 and searching for their first victory of the season.  Of course, with the lackluster performances thus far, trade rumors are heating up with Kobe Bryant at the center of it all. In a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports, Bryant put to rest the chatter and eased the concerns of Laker Nation.

“I hear the chatter of Kobe should ask out and he should go and play for a contender in this latter stage of his career,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “But that’s not what I do. I’m extremely loyal to the Lakers.”

“I believe in fighting through the tough times as well as enjoying the good times. It’s my responsibility to get us to be the best that we can be. It’s important that we approach that on a day-to-day basis.”

Bryant clearly is in pursuit of his sixth championship, but that seems more difficult now than ever before in his career.  However, Bryant is not prepared to pack his bags and take the plane to a contender. Instead, he is prepared to stay put to try and put the Lakers back on track.

“I’ve enjoyed a great amount of success here. You can’t just enjoy the successful times and then run away from the bad ones. No, I don’t even think about [departing]. I’m a Laker.”

At this point in his career, Bryant is focused on winning with the Lakers, and not jumping ship at the first sign of rough seas.  Not to say that this season is merely in rough waters, it’s more than likely headed into a full blown hurricane that won’t leave much to be salvaged from the wreckage. However, this only proves Bryant’s loyalty to his squad that took a “chance” on him in 1996.

In a season that looked fairly promising back in early October, Steve Nash has since been ruled out for the season due to recurring back issues, as well as the highly touted rookie Julius Randle, who suffered a season ending leg injury in the opener versus Houston.  With Randle out until next season, and Nash not likely to play another NBA game, the Lakers will have to look to other guys to step up and fill their shoes.

“We can’t get discouraged by it,” Bryant said. “It’s a very long season. You just have to stay the course. Keep on looking to improve, keep on looking to get better and things will eventually break.”

Lakers fans everywhere are hoping something breaks for them this season, anything to provide a glimmer of hope for the future.  One thing is certain, Bryant will be a part of the Lakers no matter what happens.  Not only has he said he is staying with the purple and gold, but his contract makes him difficult to move without getting considerable compensation in return.  Rumors have flown around saying no one would want Bryant at this stage of his career, and that is nonsense.  That has never been the issue. The question of whether he is thinking about taking off, which has already been established by Bryant to be a definite NO.

Bryant has enjoyed a strong start to the season, effectively muzzling any detractors that said he would never be the same again post injuries.  Averaging 24 PPG, Bryant is showing he still has what makes him who he is.  Sure, he has lost some athleticism, vertical, and foot speed on defense but that comes with age, and as fine wine gets better with age, so does Bryant. Vino.

It was not too long ago that Bryant was demanding a trade from Los Angeles back in 2007, but things are different this time around.

“We offered Pau an incredible deal. I saw them put the work in. It’s much different than in 2007 when I felt like they were just sitting on their hands. This is not that case. They were going after it and being aggressive. I will fight for that till the end. They tried, tried and tried and it didn’t work out. I stand behind them 110 percent. I bleed purple and gold.”

Bryant’s loyalty is with Los Angeles, and there is not any evidence to dispute that.  With this season in doubt for a playoff push, the Lakers and their fans must look to the future and stay optimistic, knowing things will eventually get better.

“You have to understand there is nothing you can do with what’s transpired,” Bryant said. “You have to move on to tomorrow. Right? You have to. Kicking and screaming is not going to do anything.

“Lakers fans know it’s a process. Things can turn pretty quickly. We’ve seen it there before. If there is anything we’re relying on, we’re relying on our history, what we’ve been able to accomplish and how quickly we are able to turn things around.”

The Lakers’ first-round pick in 2015 is top-five protected meaning the Lakers keep it if they finish in the top five of next year’s draft, otherwise it will end up with Phoenix via the Nash trade two seasons ago.  Barring a surprising turnaround, it looks like a possibility the pick stays in Los Angeles and the Lakers have that to look forward to.  But what I think is most important, is the fact that we are all witnessing the twilight of a legend’s career, and watching one of the best players to ever play the game finish strong.  Cherish it Laker fans, there will never be another Kobe Bean Bryant in the NBA.

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Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Despite an 0-4 start which included lopsided losses to the Suns and Warriors and a devastating injury to rookie Julius Randle, there are some positives that can be picked out from this young campaign. While Kobe Bryant looks like his old self, we all know that simply is not enough.

Here are three things the Lakers can build on from their first week of the regular season:

1. The emergence of Jordan Hill:  After two lackluster performances to start the year, Hill has stepped his game up against two of the Western Conference’s top teams.  He scored 23 points and grabbed five rebounds in each game against the Clippers and Warriors.  In addition, he also had four assists and three blocks against Golden State.  Frontcourt mate Carlos Boozer has underwhelmed so far, and Hill has taken it upon himself to contribute in any way he can.  His jumper has been falling, and that is a testament to the hard work he put in over the summer.  He will not put up numbers like this every game, but one can only hope that he stays healthy and continues to be consistent.

2. Jeremy Lin’s confidence:  Kobe Bryant has empowered Lin to run the offense but Lin has struggled early on, outside of a quality performance versus the Clippers.  His shooting has been up and down, and has turned the ball over far too many times.  Despite these downfalls, Lin is becoming more comfortable in his role as the starting point guard with every game played.  That confidence showed versus the Clippers, when Lin waved Bryant off when he demanded the ball, which Bryant loved.  For the Lakers to make any sort of noise this season, it has to start by playing with an aggressiveness and toughness that matches Kobe’s level, because it means they are willing to step up and shoulder the blame.

3. Minimal injuries early on: After a whirlwind of injuries during training camp that crescendoed with Randle falling to a leg injury in the season opener, the Lakers have come out relatively unscathed in the past three games.  Here is to hoping this continues, and that the team can look forward to people coming back, as opposed to more people going down, which plagued the team the last two seasons.

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Photo courtesy of Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

They quite really couldn’t stop them tonight, nor have they been able to stop anyone else they’ve played this season; at least not for long stretches. The Lakers got off to an exceptional start, leading by six points after the first quarter, and built up a 10-point advantage early in the second quarter. But as has been the case a few times in the pre-season, yesterday against the Clippers and then today against the Warriors, the Lakers’ intensity on the defensive end wanes, which affects their offense, which eventually affects the entire game for them thereafter.

Despite shooting 63% in the first quarter, the Lakers still allowed Golden State to shoot 50% from the field. And despite continuing to inch themselves to get the lead back in the second half, it all seemed completely futile in the end. Each time the Lakers scored, the Warriors would score more. It was like pouring water into a bucket full of holes – by the middle of the fourth quarter, every ounce of effort seemed pointless. The result was a blowout that many expected – 127-104.

HIGH POINTS
Kobe Bryant – He’s still the man, because on this team, he’s darn near the only one the Lakers have got. Valiant efforts from Jordan Hill and Ed Davis aside, Bryant has been on a tear the last few games because he can, but more so because he knows he has to. Any opinion to the contrary doesn’t know this team. Tonight the Mamba poured in 28 points on 12-28 from the field, and he hit one of the four three pointers that the Lakers made. The downside of his game tonight – he missed half of his free throws and committed seven turnovers.
Jordan Hill – This season, Hill has been the second best player next to Bryant. After last night’s 23-point effort, he chipped in another 23 tonight, in addition to three blocks. Again, the downside is the lack of boards. He grabbed just five for the game, but he did hand out four assists.
Ed Davis – 70% – that’s Davis’s FG% this season. He’s a no-nonsense player whose sound basics are earning him some solid playing time. He shot 5-7 for his 13 points tonight.

LOW POINTS
Jeremy Lin – After such a positive game last night, Lin disappointed tonight. He went 0-6 from the field but 6-6 from the free throw line. His six assists were helpful, but as the starting point guard for this team, he needs to produce much more than this. Steph Curry scored 31 points and still managed to hand out 10 assists and three steals.
Carlos Boozer – Streaky –that’s Boozer’s performance in a nutshell right now. He’s been able to score effectively at times, but he’s missing even the easiest of shots. He barely rebounds and isn’t much of a playmaker either.
Sustainability – They played so well for a quarter and a half and even led by double digits. Then they lost the lead and continued to fight, but it was obvious late in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth that they were overrun.
Turnovers – 42 turnovers for both teams, and the Lakers had 22 of them, which resulted in 26 points for Golden State.
Three – This is going to be a low point for many games to come until some of the Lakers’ shooters return and certainly until they figure out how to defend the three. The Lakers went just 4-14 from behind the arc, while the Warriors hit 11-23 from downtown. It was a 12-33 disparity in points off three pointers – what a difference.

The Lakers are off until next Tuesday, thank goodness. However they choose to spend the next few days, the hope is that they work on the low points above. It feels like such a tedious season already and it’s only been four games.

Box Score

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Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images

The bad news? The Lakers are 0-3 to start the season and they’re likely to be 0-4 by tomorrow night. The good news? The version of the team that played tonight didn’t resemble the version that got blown out in the first two games. In a season that has been trying from the start, a silver lining anywhere offers some hope.

In the first quarter, it looked like the Lakers were going to get pounded by another team, with the Clippers taking an early 15-point lead. With some fight in them, and 14 points from Kobe Bryant, the home team cut their deficit down to single digits before halftime. In the third quarter, Jordan Hill led the way and the Lakers outscore the Clips 34-24.

Unfortunately, in the fourth quarter, the Clippers took advantage of the Lakers’ foul trouble and scored 19 of their 32 points from the free throw line. Were there some questionable calls that might’ve changed the game? Yes. But there were other reasons the Lakers lost their seven point lead en route to a 118-111 loss.

HIGH POINTS
Jordan Hill – Hill was on point with his offense tonight, going 10-15 from the field and 3-4 from the free throw line for his 23 points. He shot from everywhere – at times from places I didn’t realize were in his range. The only downside to his stat line is the miniscule five rebounds. He can and should be grabbing for much more than that.
Jeremy Lin – Lin lives! For the past two games, Lin has been an anomaly for this team, often looking hesitant and unsure of himself and his role on this roster. Tonight, he looked nothing like the sort. He neared a triple double with his 17 points on 7-13 from the field and 3-6 from downtown and nine assists. He also had four rebounds and a steal. Moreover, he kept Chris Paul at bay. CP3 scored just 12 points on 2-9 from the field, and handed out 10 assists – a very pedestrian stat line for the Clipper point guard. In the second half, he went 0-4.
Kobe Bryant – 6-15 from the field? No matter. Because Bryant still scored 21 points, including a three, 8-11 from the free throw line and a sweet up and under layup reminiscent of the Kobe of 10 years ago.
Fight – This team has some fight in them – a lot of it, and when they choose to unleash it like they did tonight on both ends of the floor, good things happen. In the second half, they kept the Clippers at 43% from the field with their defense, while they shot 52% themselves.

LOW POINTS
Foul Trouble – While the third quarter proved to be a productive one for the Lakers, they also experienced a great deal of foul trouble. Before the fourth quarter, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill and Ed Davis, which essentially make up the Lakers’ front court, all had four fouls already. On the one hand as a team, they still managed to steer the game in their favor in that third quarter through tough defense. On the other hand, they came into the fourth quarter somewhat less aggressive. Wesley Johnson used all six of his fouls and played in only two minutes of the final quarter. In that fourth, the free throw disparity between the Lakers and Clippers was 19-2 in the Clippers’ favor.
Wesley Johnson, Robert Sacre, Carlos Boozer – The three did almost nothing to help the team win, and most times were a liability. Wesley Johnson was 2-8 form the field, and he played 30 minutes for those five points. Robert Sacre looks exactly like the same player he was last season. Where is the improvement? All he contributed today was a moving screen call to close the third, which gave the ball to the Clippers who scored a three to cut the Laker lead to just four points. He received the same call to open the fourth quarter. He finished with eight points on 2-3 from the field, and 4-4 from the free throw line. In just under 14 minutes of action, he collected two rebounds. TWO. Ronnie Price played in less time and grabbed four boards. Then there’s Boozer, who we’ve seen glimpses of greatness over the pre-season, but has become a streaky scorer and a not-so-great-rebounder-for-a-forward.
Three – The Lakers allowed the Clippers 12-33 from three, when they could only hit 7-20 themselves. This three-point scoring has been a real issue for the team. They can’t seem to defend it, nor can they retaliate by hitting threes of their own.

Up next is a Golden State Warriors team who, well, we know what they can do. If the Lakers can show up tomorrow like they did tonight, it might not be as bad as we expect.

Box Score

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Photo: J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com

It’s safe to say that this was one of the more painful regular season openers for the Los Angeles Lakers in recent memory.

Nevermind the 108-90 loss to the Houston Rockets.  Nevermind that the Lakers struggled with their offense–going 35.4% from the field in a game where they never really got into a good rhythm.  All these things can be fixed with more practices and more competitive games under their belt.

The worst part happened late in the contest when rookie Julius Randle went down with an apparent leg injury.  Initially,  Kevin Harlan, who was calling the game on TNT, thought it was a minor ankle injury and the feed cut to a commercial break.  When the coverage resumed, it became apparent that this was not a minor injury as Kobe Bryant and the other players were gathered around the fallen rookie as Randle was being placed on a gurney as a silent STAPLES Center crowd looked on.

The initial diagnosis was a broken leg, which was later specified to be a fractured tibia, bringing an abrupt halt to an anticipated project that was in line to carry the Lakers into the future.

Here was the Lakers’ future, the No. 7 pick in the draft, expected to be on the building blocks in the eventual post-Kobe era, lost for an extended period of time, maybe for the season.

This was already a team that was missing key pieces in Nick Young and Ryan Kelly for the immediate future, and Steve Nash for the season.  With an already challenging road ahead of them in a tough Western Conference, Randle’s injury adds a whole new layer to what they have to go through.  Randle’s development into a solid NBA player was one of this season’s silver linings.

It’s hard to say what happens now.  Perhaps one thing to look forward to is the team might actually just be terrible enough to land a top-five lottery pick, allowing the team the keep the pick instead of sending it off to Phoenix as a part of the Steve Nash trade in 2012.

If this injury didn’t happen, this piece was going to be all about patience.  This team will eventually look like a team that’s capable to making some noise.  Randle’s bad start was nothing to be worried about, as his tentativeness and hesitation to attack will eventually vanish with time.  But that’s not all here.

In a day that was supposed celebrate the return of Kobe Bryant to the basketball court, that moment seems to be the last thing on the minds of Lakers fans now.

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Photo courtesy of Lakers.com

Julius Randle suffered a fractured right tibia in the Lakers 108-90 opening night loss to the Houston Rockets.

The injury occurred in the fourth quarter when Randle drove to the basket. There was no contact on the play and Randle immediately sat down under the basket in pain, holding his right leg as play continued on the other end of the floor.

Here is the official word from the Lakers:

“EL SEGUNDO – Lakers forward Julius Randle left tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets in the fourth quarter with an injury to his right leg. The initial diagnosis by team doctors at the arena is a fractured tibia.

Randle will undergo further evaluation tomorrow, and an update on his status will be given at that time.”

Randle was the No. 7 pick by the Lakers in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Stay with LakerNation.com for the latest updates on Randle’s injury. Follow us on Twitter @LakerNation and reporter Johnny Navarrette @JNavLN.

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Photo courtesy of Robyn Beck, Getty Images.

New season, new beginning and, for the Lakers, new injury. Business as usual, right?

The hopes for a renewed strength this year slammed to the ground with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. Seventh overall pick Julius Randle was driving his way to the hoop, and in the process took a wrong step and his right foot buckled under him. The rookie fell to the floor, as did the promise of a better season.

The Lakers were already down by 26 points when it happened, just a few minutes after Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard received technicals for jawing at each other. That was the highlight of the evening at that point, until Randle fell. The Rockets led by as much as 27 and they took the game, 108-90.

HIGH POINTS
n/a

LOW POINTS
Kobe Bryant showed up for this game, and in the third quarter, Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin finally joined in. But overall, there wasn’t a whole lot of anything that looked even remotely good. They allowed 62 points in the first half, and 8-16 from downtown. The Lakers’ defense was helter skelter at best, scrambling every which way. Their offense wasn’t any better. Bryant scored just six points in the first quarter, but after the Lakers were outscored 31-19 after 12 minutes, he came back in the second and poured in 10 more points. It was Kobe, and only Kobe, doin’ work. The oldest guy on the team carrying the weight already so early in the season. He finished with 19 points. Lin handed out six assists and went 1-5 in almost 30 minutes on the floor. Jordan Hill grabbed 10 rebounds, but hit just 2-7 from the field. Xavier Henry, who didn’t participate in one second of training camp or the pre-season due to injury, got 18 minutes of floor time and, expectedly, did nothing but hit 3-4 free throws. The Lakers looked like a team who haven’t been together long, so was tonight’s loss a surprise? Not entirely.
All this pales in comparison to the real low point of the evening, however, with Julius Randle to consider. He’s been diagnosed with a fractured right tibia – a broken leg. His teammates surrounded him on the baseline as the Lakers’ training staff assessed the damage. As he was carried off, he was given pats on the shoulder and head. Bryant stayed close to Randle’s ear, clearly whispering something encouraging to his young teammate. A season-ending injury isn’t new to Bryant after all, but lest we forget, Randle is only 19 years old and this is his first year as a pro.

Regardless of your team loyalties, it’s something you never want to see, especially on opening night of a new season – a rookie being carried to the locker room in a stretcher. Where is the justice in that? For the Lakers, justice has been elusive the last few years. Injury has plagued this team and, despite a new season, it appears to plague them still.

Box Score

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Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers have announced today that they have waived camp invitees Jabari Brown and Roscoe Smith.  With that, the roster now stands at 15 players, the maximum allowed by the NBA.  Neither player had a guaranteed contract.

While Brown’s exclusion from the final roster seemed like a foregone conclusion based on the playing time he received during the preseason, Smith probably had a legitimate shot to make the roster.  With Ryan Kelly still out of action and Wesley Johnson as the only true healthy small forward, there may be a chance for Smith to end up on the D-Fenders for a future call up.

Other camp signings, Wayne Ellington and Ronnie Price, are still on the roster.  With both players nursing injuries, it’s still uncertain whether or not the Lakers will keep them or not before the season opener on October 28.

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Photo courtesy of Andrew D. Bernstein, Getty Images.

They just had to get through one more pre-season game without adding to the list of injuries. ONE. With five teammates sitting out with both minor and major injuries, Steve Nash calling it quits for the season and Kobe Bryant and Carlos Boozer getting some rest, Byron Scott had 10 players to put on the floor and he literally had to use them all.

Not exactly a top-shelf opponent, but the Sacramento Kings did play their main men, with center Demarcus Cousins leading the pack. On the Lakers’ side, we got to see a lot of Julius Randle, Jeremy Lin, Ed Davis and Jordan Clarkson, who missed half the pre-season, but got lots of burn tonight.

The Lakers led by as much as 14 points, with their defense solid from almost beginning to end. Unfortunately, the Kings ended the game with a huge run and won at the buzzer, 93-92.

HIGH POINTS
Rookies – Late in the third quarter, Randle drove to the hoop, then turned to his left and sent a pass to Clarkson, standing just behind the three-point line. The rookie point guard rose up and knocked down the triple, emphatically slapping palms with Randle as they ran back on defense. With all the injuries that are plaguing the Lakers so early in the season, the two first-years are more than likely to get a good amount of playing time. Randle played all eight pre-season games, averaging 8.8 ppg and 5.8 rpg. In the last three games, he’s looked more comfortable and confident, whether it’s barreling down the lane for a hoop, or making a play for his teammate. Tonight he finished with 12 points on 50% shooting, nine rebounds, a pair of assists and one steal. Clarkson played in only four games of the pre-season, but showed a lot of skill, determination and, like Randle, a growing confidence. If Ronnie Price’s injury from tonight’s game persists, Clarkson will undoubtedly get some floor time, and based on a small sample size, he’ll get better with each game. Tonight he chipped in 11 points, three assists and a steal. Randle and Clarkson played about 30 minutes each. Oh to be 19 or 22 years old again.
Jeremy Lin – When it was announced that Price wouldn’t be returning to the game after a collision with Collison in the first quarter, Lin’s number was called and he answered. Clocking in almost 32 minutes of playing time, Lin did just about everything a solid point guard is supposed to do – make plays (seven assists), score (19 points on 6-12 from the field, 2-6 from downtown, 5-6 from the free throw line) and direct his teammates on the floor (he talked to players during dead balls and timeouts). Now that Nash is out, it’s up to Lin to be the floor general for this team. So far, so good.
Ed Davis – Probably the most consistent player in the pre-season, Davis showed he’s got a lot to offer to this team, and it’s nothing flashy nor dominating. It’s just fundamental. He always seems to receive a pass when he’s in the perfect position to score, probably because he puts himself in that position to score. Catch the ball, spin around and toss it in the hoop, run back on defense. That’s what the former Tar Heel provides. He finished tonight with a double-double, 15 points on 6-9 from the field, a game-leading 13 rebounds, four assists, and zero turnovers. And how’s this for a stat? 73% shooting for the pre-season.
Clean Game – The Lakers turned the ball over just 10 times, which only gave way to four Kings’ points. And Sacramento turned the ball over just 11 times.
Points Distribution – Five players scored in double figures, led by Lin’s 19 points.

LOW POINTS
A Dangerous Game – Not even three minutes into the first quarter, Ronnie Price took a charge from Darren Collison and in the process, banged knees with the opposing point guard and hit the ground in pain. He didn’t play the remainder of the game. Reports say it’s a knee contusion. In the second quarter, Rudy Gay took an elbow in the face from Julius Randle and was done for the rest of the night. In the very final quarter, Wayne Ellington and Ben McLemore bumped heads, with McLemore bearing the brunt of the hit. Both players went back to the locker room and never returned and a possible concussion is reported.
Free Throw Disparity – The Lakers shot 11-16 from the charity stripe today, but the Kings went 23-31, shooting almost twice as much as their opponent. Whether they didn’t go to the rim enough or the officials didn’t notice, it’s hard to tell.
Foul Trouble – Speaking of free throws, the Kings shot 12 to the Lakers’ four in the first quarter. Robert Sacre had four personal fouls before the second quarter, and Davis had three of his own.

With this new set of injuries from tonight, there’s no telling what the Lakers will look like on Opening Night four days from now against Houston. They finished the pre-season with a 3-5 record, which could’ve been 5-3 had they finished the Suns’ game by hitting their final free throws and avoiding overtime, and they could’ve had tonight’s win if their defense hadn’t expired before the end of the fourth quarter. But all that doesn’t matter now that the real season is upon us. It couldn’t have come soon enough.

Box Score

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After another setback during the pre-season, the Lakers announced today that Steve Nash will miss the 2014-2015 season due to ongoing back issues.

Via Lakers:

EL SEGUNDO – Due to a recurring back injury, Lakers point guard Steve Nash will be out for the season, it was announced today.  After consultations with Lakers medical staff, both Nash and the organization believe it is best to focus on rest and rehabilitation at this time. 

“Being on the court this season has been my top priority and it is disappointing to not be able to do that right now,” said Nash.  “I work very hard to stay healthy and unfortunately my recent setback makes performing at full capacity difficult.  I will continue to support my team during this period of rest, and will focus on my long-term health.”

“As disappointed as we are for ourselves and our fans, we’re even more disappointed for Steve,” said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak.  “We know how hard he’s worked the last two years to try to get his body right for the rigors of the NBA, and how badly he wants to play, but unfortunately he simply hasn’t been able to get there up to this point in time.  Steve has been a consummate professional, and we greatly appreciate his efforts.”

Nash has said he expects this, his 19th season, to be his last.

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Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images.

Of the ten players who got floor time tonight, only two were familiar faces from last season – Wesley Johnson and Robert Sacre. Coach Byron Scott decided to sit Kobe Bryant out for the final two pre-season games, Jordan Hill was nursing a cervical strain, Xavier Henry is in Germany getting some work done on that knee, Ryan Kelly hurt his other hamstring in practice this week, Nick Young is still out a few more weeks after his surgery, and Steve Nash is, well, being what Steve Nash has been to this team…a player on the injured roster. With Portland’s main men sitting out tonight’s game as well, it was basically a contest between two teams whose coaching staff needed to see the new players play, and as far as the Laker side goes, they did not disappoint.

HIGH POINTS
The Lakers led for most of this game, gaining as much as a 15-point advantage in the second quarter and a lead they sustained until the buzzer sounded. With a solid flow to their offense, thanks to a collective effort on the assists; and a noticeable determination on the defensive end, the purple and gold took the 94-86 victory.
Newbies Are Goodies – With almost half the roster unavailable to play tonight, Coach Scott tried out a few combinations and one thing was apparent – this new crop of teammates aren’t just “not bad,” they’re actually really good. The stand-out tonight was undoubtedly Julius Randle, whose got size and handles reminiscent of Lamar Odom (minus the three ball, but hey, it’s only his rookie year so who knows). Not only was he fighting for the defensive rebound, he was also retaining it, running it across the floor and scoring on the other end. And if getting to the rim wasn’t the optimal choice, he’s also got an exceptional mid-range jumper. 17 points on 7-10 from the field, 3-4 from the free throw line and eight rebounds. Not bad for a 19-year old rookie. Another standout tonight was point guard Jeremy Lin. Splitting the PG responsibilities with Ronnie Price, Lin showed glimpses of what made him so great in New York and in Houston. This guy can be a blur when he’s heading to the rack to score. A mighty first step will do that for you, and Lin’s got a good one. He finished with 13 points on 5-9, five assists and three rebounds. His six turnovers aside, Lin played with a savvy seen in many veterans in the league.
Scoring Is Caring – Five players scored in double figures tonight for the Lakers, and they handed out 20 assists for 38 made field goals.
Defense – The Lakers played defense tonight…like they really played defense tonight. They stole the ball from Portland eight times, though it seemed like so much more. They jumped in front of passes, blocked shots (Ed Davis had four of the team’s five blocks), diving for the loose ball, as Wayne Ellington did. There is just a noticeable amount of effort on the defensive end.

LOW POINTS
Threeball – I think we should get used to the Lakers not living by the three. They attempted 11 tonight, and made only three courtesy of Ronnie Price and Ellington.
Robert Sacre – Sacre had a relatively okay game, but each time the ball is passed his way, he always seems startled. On the bright side, he did score 10 points, and collected eight rebounds.

Friday’s game will be held in lovely Las Vegas, and then there are just a few days before the games really start counting. Sooner can’t come quickly enough.

Box Score

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By now, you probably have a clear image of Willis Reed walking out of the Madison Square Garden tunnel before tipoff of 1970’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers. It’s been replayed more times than almost any other singular moment in NBA history.

The one footage of Willis Reed you likely don’t have engraved in your head is that of him single handedly trying to take on the entire 1966 Lakers squad on his own. That’s because nobody had footage of it… until now.

Via Deadspin:

Reed and Lakers power forward Rudy LaRusso had been scrapping all game, but things finally reached a tipping point in the third quarter. The two lined up next to each other on the foul line, and while jockeying for position on the ensuing free throw, LaRusso claims Reed threw an elbow at his head. LaRusso responded to this provocation with an attempted haymaker, and all hell broke loose. Reed and LaRusso found themselves in front of the Lakers bench, which sprung onto the court in LaRusso’s defense.

And here’s an account of the fight by New York Times’ Dave Anderson

In the confusion Reed flattened [Darrell] Imhoff, a 6-foot-10-inch, 220-pound center, with a punch over the left eye. [John] Block, a 6-9, 210-pound rookie center, suffered a bloody nose, which turned out to have been fractured. Imhoff, holding a bloodied towel to his face, lay sprawled in front of the Laker bench for several minutes while the police restored order among a few of the 15,755 spectators who had run onto the court for a ringside view. Imhoff needed one stitch to close a cut on his left eyelid. LaRusso, who is 6-8 and weighs 225, later admitted that “Reed hit me a couple good ones.” Both were ejected from the game.

Willis Reed was not suspended and fined $50 by the league.

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Photo courtesy of Andrew D. Bernstein, Getty Images

All they had to do was make two free throws.

Behind by two points with just under four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant did that thing that Kobe Bryant does – he took over the game, scoring eight straight points to get the Lakers a three-point lead with just 12 seconds left in regulation.

Isaiah Thomas hit just one of his two free throws in the final seconds to get within two points of the lead. All Wesley Johnson had to do was hit at least one free throw to put the Lakers in a good position to win. He clanked both, Thomas hit a jumper at the buzzer, and overtime the game went.

Both teams shot the same percentage in the bonus five minutes, but three Laker turnovers to the Suns’ zero, placed them in a tough spot from which they couldn’t recover. It was a relatively thrilling game nonetheless, but Phoenix took the 114-108 victory.

HIGH POINTS
Kobe Bryant – He’d had a very quiet game in the first half, scoring just five points in 16 minutes of playing time, but he was all smiles in the second half. Bryant opened the third quarter by aiding in the Lakers’ first eight points – tossing it to Jordan Hill for a dunk, and then hitting three jumpers in succession thereafter. In the fourth quarter, he single-handedly set up the team to win the game, backing the defending PJ Tucker into a position that would not, could not deter that signature fadeaway. The much-maligned Bryant, the target of an ESPN article wrought with obvious malcontent, ran back on defense after his last two points. We can only imagine what he thought in those last few plays before he checked out for the night with his 27 points on 10-20 from the field, 7-8 from the free throw line, four rebounds, two assists and steal. Take that, Henry Abbott.
Ball Movement – With Jeremy Lin back from sitting out the last few games due to an ankle sprain, the Lakers had two point guards to work with tonight. However, it wasn’t just Lin or Ronnie Price setting up their teammates. It was a group effort. Led by Price’s 10 dimes, the Lakers handed out 31 assists on 40 made field goals and six players scored in double figures.
Defense – Despite the loss, the Lakers’ commitment to defense was in full display tonight (except during overtime when it vanished). Phoenix shot over 50% in just one quarter during regulation (and 67% in OT). Bryant hounded Goran Dragic for almost entire possessions, and the team, as a whole, rotated and helped the helper, as the saying goes. Ed Davis, probably the most active defender in this pre-season, had three of the Lakers’ seven blocks. It’s not exactly lockdown team defense, but compared to last season, it’s a joy to watch them play defense as hard as they have been at all.

LOW POINTS
Three-Pointers – It’s bad enough that the Phoenix Suns hit 11 threes (11-33), but that the Lakers could only muster up five is what you’d call a double-whammy. This team is a stark contrast to the last two seasons, where three pointers were plentiful and points in the paint were scarce. This season, it’s the opposite. Byron Scott has said that three pointers can get you to the playoffs, but they don’t win you championships. Scott played in a different era where three pointers were considered nice, but certainly not something you designed an entire offense around. The Lakers don’t necessarily have to jack up shots from behind the arc all every chance they get, but they have to be able to take (and make) that shot when opponents give it to them. And if they can’ shoot the three, they darn well need to learn to defend it.
Fast Break Points – The Lakers and Suns committed 19 and 18 turnovers respectively, producing a lot of opportunity for fast break scoring. Tonight, Phoenix took the crown, outscoring the Lakers 30-11 on the break.
Wesley Johnson – Johnson finished with 15 points on 6-10 from the field, eight rebounds, a pair of assists and steals and three blocks. It looks like a solid stat line. However, before overtime, Johnson had just nine points in 35 minutes of playing time. He also missed the last two free throws in the final seconds of regulation that could’ve sealed the win, and he was responsible for eight of the Lakers’ 19 turnovers. He hit two threes in overtime, yes, but failed to play much defense to make that effort worth it.
Overtime – The game should’ve ended after 48 minutes, but botched free throws cost the Lakers tonight’s win.

There are just two more games left in the pre-season, but the second half of the last game and then tonight’s game, show some promise for this Laker team. They’re still missing a handful of players, and heaven knows if Byron Scott has seen enough to devise a regular rotation. We’ve said and heard it often the last few seasons though…we really do just have to wait and see.

Box Score

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“He is arguably the greatest player in the history of the Lakers’ franchise. He is also destroying it from within.”

It is simple. It is to the point. It is wrong.

On Monday, ESPN published an article online from writer Henry Abbott, who takes aim at Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant for being the sole reason the franchise has fallen off the last few seasons.

Let me be clear, when I say wrong, I do not mean the article is full of baseless information. In fact, there are stories in it that would not surprise me to be true. More times than not, Kobe has not exactly been the ideal teammate that players gravitate to nor will he ever pretend to lower expectations for his teammates causing tension along the way. This has been the narrative attributed to Kobe over his entire career. It is nothing new.

Where Abbott is wrong is letting his feelings towards Kobe get in the way of his job as journalist and writer. Instead his personal vendetta turned his opinion article into an unnecessary hack job of one man’s character.

I am not exactly sure when or where Abbott’s animosity towards Kobe began, but it is no secret Abbott is not a Lakers/Kobe guy and it is safe to assume the two do not exchange greeting cards during the holidays. Abbott has written many pieces over the past few years criticizing the shooting guard and it seems to only get more frequent with every passing season. Again, this is nothing new.

The main issue with Abbott’s article is it is completely one-sided. He knew exactly what direction he wanted to go in and used as much negative, second-hand information in his story to add “credibility” to his opinion. I am not sure what happened to the days of credible sources in journalism and it is clear Abbott is not sure either.

Here is a list of Abbott’s sources of information: “Rival GM”, “One long-time agent”, “Another agent with Lakers clients”, “An agent with numerous stars”, “An agent who once had a FA decline a Lakers offer”, “Front office executive from a rival team who knows everyone involved”, “Sources told ESPN Insider Chris Broussard”, “One Lakers source”, “One source in the Lakers circle”, “Source”, “Source with knowledge of the negotiations”, “One rival front office executive”, “Another NBA executive”, “Source close to Lakers decision makers”, “Sources”, and finally a “Lakers insider”.

Abbott’s attempt at bringing up different situations to tear down Kobe is weak at best. There are many different sides of a story and Abbott was motivated to find the side that went against Kobe, while ignoring every other side out there, even if it was reported by the network he is associated with.

It would not be any fun for him if he had to report a positive story Kobe. Kobe is arguably the most unpopular popular player in sports history and as a result a negative story on him will garner more clicks to meet that monthly quota.

Let’s take a look at some of the examples Abbott lays out in his article and put them up to the source test:

Dwight Howard leaving Lakers because of Kobe? Or was Howard upset at how he was treated in LA and wanted to be the man immediately?

To start off, let’s play the unnamed source game: “According to sources with knowledge of the situation, part of the discussion between Howard and Kupchak centered around Howard’s frustration with D’Antoni — particularly how the center felt marginalized as the coach looked to Bryant and Steve Nash for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard’s voice.” - Dave McMenamin, ESPN

Now let’s go with named sources…

Steve Nash: “Dwight had some issues with the season,” Nash said. “I think it kind of basically goes with what he said to the media that he never quite felt embraced in L.A. He never quite felt supported. That’s basically it.” - Dave McMenamin, ESPN

Phil Jackson: And Kobe made a moving speech during the pitch, promising to teach Dwight the secret of winning championships that he’d learned from the best in the game.

If the meeting had ended there, it might have worked. But after the presentation, Dwight asked Kobe what he was planning to do after he recovered from his Achilles injury. Was this going to be his last year? “No,” replied Kobe. “I’m planning to be around for three or four more years.”

At that point, according to others in the room, Dwight’s eyes went blank and he drifted away. In his mind, the game was over. - New York Daily News

Dwight Howard himself: “A lot of people say, ‘Well, if you would’ve waited a couple years, then this could’ve been yours (with the Lakers),’ And I’m like, ‘In a couple years, I’m 30,’” Howard said. “I don’t want to wait. I’ve been in the league 10 years. I don’t want to wait for things to happen. I want to be aggressive, to make things happen. And I’m looking at all these young guys who are just ready, and they’re missing one piece. And I’m like, ‘I could be that piece, and I don’t want to miss my chance.” – Sam Amick, USA Today

How about Ramon Sessions leaving the Lakers because of Kobe?

“Sessions has been somewhat evasive as to why, but he has been quoted as saying it was “definitely different” playing with Bryant. Internally, the Lakers were rattled by his departure and came to believe that Kobe was the key. It meant little as a transaction but everything as a sign of how players with options view this team.” – Abbott

Ramon Sessions in 2012, on why he left the Lakers: “It was one of those situations I looked at like, ‘If I do come back what if they trade me?’ ” Sessions said. “There were talks about getting Deron. They always wanted the bigger-named guy. What if I get traded to a team and it’s my contract year? It was one of those things that I can’t say if I opted in, [Nash] wouldn’t have come. They still might have tried to get him. You just never know.” - Yahoo! Sports

Paul George staying with Indiana because of Kobe? 

“Paul George, Angelino through and through, had once been the team’s safest choice. But sources say one reason the two-way star had re-signed with the Pacers in the fall of 2013 instead was that he was turned off by the thought that Bryant would police his efforts.” – Abbott

Paul George response on Twitter:

Kobe must be so influential to the point that a player from another team, who in fact idolized Kobe growing up, evening wearing his number in college and in the NBA, was scared off by playing with him that he was forced to sign a 5-year, $91.57M contract.

And finally Jim Buss, who apparently hates Kobe in a Lakers uniform:

The view in the Lakers’ front office is that any real rebuild will have to wait until after Bryant’s retirement. “This has finally come home,” says a Lakers insider. “Major players don’t want to play with Kobe, and Jimmy is waiting for him to leave. – Abbott

Buss really wanted to Kobe to leave to the point where he gave the veteran a 2-year, $48.5M extension as he recovered from an Achilles heel injury that sometimes ends the careers of athletes. The logical thing would have been for Buss to tell Kobe they were moving forward with the future if he really wanted him to leave. The injury gave him the perfect opportunity to get rid of Kobe. Then again, that is the logical thing to do.

Now I understand unnamed sources are what drives sports stories and the media, but Kobe has been in the league 19 years and you’re telling me Abbott was unable to reach out to any of his ex-teammates? You know players that actually PLAYED with him. Why not ask Pau Gasol why it was so difficult to leave LA for Chicago this past summer? What about Derek Fisher? Rick Fox? Lamar Odom? How about current teammates like Steve Nash?

Or what about Shaquille O’Neal who has been completely open about his relationship with Kobe in the past? Much was made about Kobe running the center out of LA but even Shaq was candid in his reasons:

“It was a money situation, I was getting older,” he continued. “They wanted me to take less money. I wasn’t going to do that, so they traded me to Miami.”

On his relationship with Kobe on the court:

“We didn’t have a bad relationship, because we won three out of four championships,” O’Neal said. “That’s not a bad relationship at all.”

While Abbott was tracking down his anonymous sources, it is hard to believe he could not contact players that would be willing to go on record for his article. Whether the opinion of those teammates would be good or bad, it would provide the piece with far more credibility.  In addition, some of the sources were that of rival teams and agents, who have much to gain from trashing Kobe for individual, client, and franchise gain. As for “sources” inside the Lakers organization, it would be surprising to see if these sources are in fact as close to the situation as portrayed by Abbott.

Is Kobe going to win the award for best teammate? No. Is Kobe difficult to play with? He is. Does Kobe demand the same type of passion and commitment from teammates that he demands from himself? You bet. Certain players can play with Kobe, some cannot and that is what it comes down to.

When it comes to the big name free agents, let’s not ignore the fact the Lakers are consistently over the salary cap and this past off-season was the first time since the 90’s the team had a chance to add large contracts. LeBron James was always going back home to Cleveland and while Carmelo Anthony was intrigued by the Lakers, it was difficult for him to say no to Phil Jackson and $124M. Don’t see how Kobe played a part in either of those situations.

The Lakers being at the bottom of the league at the moment is not about one player. It is about a wide-array of things that Abbott fails to mention.

After the league vetoed the Lakers acquisition of Chris Paul, that can be seen as a good starting point as to when the purple and gold empire began to fall. A Paul trade would have been a precursor to another move that would have brought together Kobe, Paul, and Howard to form one of the more intriguing threesomes in NBA history. It was a typical Lakers plan that would have resulted in yet another dynasty… but it did not happen for “basketball reasons”.

That is no Lakers bias either from my end, it’s a shared sentiment from other reporters such as Eric Pincus:

Instead the Lakers went to plan B, which included trading an unhappy Lamar Odom for a draft pick, sending a bunch of draft picks to the Suns for Steve Nash and still being able to bring Howard in from the Magic.

From there, coaching issues with Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, terrible luck on the injury front, and lack of resources to trade for players (you know the thing the Lakers always have done to bring in talent, not in free agency) to compete in the Western Conference, have all played more of a role to the decline of the Lakers than Kobe has.

To place the blame on one player for the fall of a franchise is irresponsible. It is even more irresponsible to try and pass off an article as “opinion” with “facts” while your sources all hide behind anonymity.

While Abbott can attempt to blame Kobe for the fall of the Lakers, this is a prime example of a problem within media today. More than that, this piece just goes on to further the fall of respectable, honest journalism.

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With the Lakers off to a poor start, trade rumors have begun to swirl around Kobe Bryant, leading many to speculate if he'll leave for greener pastures. Kobe puts those rumors to rest in his interview with Yahoo Sports.