Saturday, December 20, 2014
Blog Page 28

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Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Noah Graham, Getty Images

Don’t look now, but the Lakers have a three-game winning streak.

A winning streak – remember those? It’s been so long since the Lakers have had any string of positive things happen that it’s sometimes easier to remember how bad it’s been. Let’s avoid being the party pooper tonight, however, shall we?

The Sacramento Kings aren’t reigning NBA champions. What they have been in the last few seasons, is a team trying to stay afloat in a sea of uncertainty. Their coaching staff turnover is quick; they were, at one point, on their way out of the city, then back into the city…then out again…then in again; by the way, their star player is a head case still trying to grapple with the leadership that’s expected out of him. Be these issues as they may, however, they’ve still got a good group of players who still challenged the Lakers.

Coming off a good win against the Golden State Warriors on Friday, the Lakers needed to continue with the same effort moving forward, and they did that again tonight, starting with Pau Gasol, ending with solid bench play, and an all-around team effort in between. Neither team dominated every quarter, but slowly and surely, the Lakers topped the Kings with every 12 minutes they came upon, resulting in the 100-86 win.

High Points
Pau Gasol – The Spaniard is feelin’ it! Another double-double night for Gasol with his 20 points on 8-16 from the field, and 10 rebounds. He looked so comfortable on the floor, shooting with confidence from the paint and from 17 feet away. These last two games have been the best that Gasol has looked all season. Whatever was ailing him to start seems to have dissipated.
Guard Play – Since the pre-season began, the one quality that players, analysts and coaches have noted is the Lakers’ chemistry, which surely contributes to their success on the court. What has also aided in the team’s progress is them knowing their roles and pushing themselves to be the best in the role that they can be. The perfect examples of this shined tonight in Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks. When you have to step into Steve Nash’s shoes, no matter how un-Nash Nash has been the last season or so, there’s obviously a certain pressure there, but the great thing about Blake is, is that he seems immune to talk and pressure of the sort. The man is just a hard worker, team player and scrapper. He’s averaging a little over 7 apg, but it seems like so much more. Tonight he handed out 12 dimes (just two turnovers) and chipped in nine points. Blake can score, but he knows he’s the floor general and takes pride in it. Meeks, sitting in Kobe Bryant’s starting position, and in this line-up where Gasol is the primary scorer, knows his role is to aid in the scoring and, of course, play defense. Tonight, Meeks poured in 14 points on 6-10 from the field and had a pair of steals, one of which he converted into points on the other end.
Jordan Hill – 10 points, 13 rebounds, one block and a whole lot of energy and effort on both ends of the floor. Even Hill’s 13 boards don’t bring justice to the amount of work he did out there. He doesn’t know what it looks like to give up on a play or a loose ball. If there’s a ball in the air up for grabs, you can bet that Hill will be right there trying to take it away first.
Xavier Henry – After a productive pre-season that earned him a spot on the team, not to mention the rotation, and a good start to the regular season, Henry seemed to fade into the shadows. He needed tonight to show he was just going through a slump. He needed to re-assure his team and his coaches too. With 21 points on 7-11 from the field, circus shots that led to free throws, and then hitting 5-6 of those free throws line (where he sometimes struggles), Henry seems to have sent out the reminder.
Defense – The Lakers allowed Sacramento to shoot 50% from the field in the first half, and then came back from halftime and closed the third on a 10-0 run that gave them a 12-points lead going into the final quarter. The Kings shot just 25% from the field in the third and fell behind by as much as 19 points in the fourth. Except for their first two wins against the Clippers and the Hawks, the Lakers have kept the teams in their last five victories under 100 points. It’s funny what that thing called defense can accomplish.
Turnovers – 20 assists to 10 turnovers. It’s hard to remember a time when the Lakers got through a half without 10 turnovers, but to do it for an entire game is stellar.

Low Points
Downtown Downer – The Lakers are fifth in the league in three-point percentage at 41%. Tonight they went just 8-26 from behind the arc for 31%. It’s a good thing that it didn’t matter so much tonight because they were getting it done in the paint (46 points),

Three game winning streak AND a .500 record? It’s a good way to start a three-game road trip beginning Tuesday. If Pau Gasol dominates the way he’s done the last couple of games, if the reserves continue being the most productive bench in the league, and if the Lakers continue capitalizing on their chemistry, they will continue to succeed as they’ve been the past few games, with or without Bryant and Nash…though WITH is the preference.

Box Score

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Bernstein, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bernstein, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bernstein, Getty Images

The last time the Lakers and Warriors met, it was no contest from tip-off to the final buzzer. Golden State ran their opponents out of the arena with their usual sharp shooting, and the Lakers, fortunately, haven’t forgotten.

Klay Thompson had a huge night that evening, scoring 37 points to lead the game. This time around, he looked a lot more human, and you can credit that to the Lakers’ defense (yes, the Lakers can play defense) that kept a close eye (and body) on him constantly.

After a 33-point second quarter, the Lakers came into the second half a lot more focused than they have in previous games when they’ve put on a good first-half show. They ended the third quarter on a 12-0 run, led by as much as 16 points, and sustained that effort until their 102-95 win.

High Points
Pau Gasol – Gasol pledged that he would donate $1,000 for every point he scored in tonight’s game to typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines. He finished the night with 24 points which (for anyone who needs a calculator) means he’s donating $24,000. Perhaps his pledge gave him extra incentive to score. Perhaps the four days off energized him. Maybe, after 12 games, he’s finally starting to find his groove. Whatever the reasons may be, Gasol looked like his old self tonight. Not only did he go 11-19, he also grabbed 10 rebounds, handed out a trio of assists, had two steals and one block. This is the Gasol we’re accustomed to seeing and will hopefully see again throughout the season.
Bench Play – The Laker reserves were a man down tonight, with big man, Chris Kaman, out due to a sore back, but that didn’t hinder the bench’s play. Led by Nick Young and Jordan Farmar, the guys off the pine chipped in 44 points. Young, proving to be more productive coming off the bench than starting, had 21 points on 7-15, including a trio of three pointers and a dunk from Farmar’s lob that excited the crowd. Farmar, having gone through a bit of a bad spell in previous games, made up for it tonight with his 14 points, eight assists, one block and zero turnovers. Having known each other since they were high school kids, the chemistry between Farmar and Young is obvious and effective.
Balance – This has been a good trend this season, with each Laker chipping in to help out. Tonight, they had five players in double figures.
Defense – Warriors leading man, Steph Curry, sat out the game, but he’s not the only player on the team who the Lakers need to contain. There’s also the matter of Klay Thompson, who left the Lakers in the dust in their last meeting. Tonight, the Lakers knew better and scarcely left Thompson unattended. They barely allowed him any space to take open shots and because of this, he went just 6-20 from the field for his 19 points.

Low Points
Xavier Henry – Fizzling out already? Probably just well-scouted. Henry had such a great start in the pre-season and the beginning of the regular season (which technically we’re still in), but he has since gone scarce. He had just three points tonight on 1-5 shooting and went 1-4 from the free throw line. To pick up on his success this season, Henry needs more moves, something to keep the scouts and the opposing players guessing.
Outrebounded – 50-36 difference in rebounds. It’s not a point of emphasis this season since the Lakers’ coaching staff urges the players to run back on defense instead of waiting around at the glass. Fortunately, this did not hurt the Lakers’ chance at victory, but in general, rebounding should be a team effort.

For the first time this season, the Lakers have won consecutive games. The bar isn’t set very high for this team, especially with Kobe Bryant out, but they seem poised for the challenge. Next up are the Sacramento Kings.

Box Score

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Photo Credit: NBA
Photo Credit: Public Radio

One of the greats of the Lakers franchise Vern Mikkelsen sadly passed away yesterday November 21st. Mikkelsen resided in Wayzata, Minnensota with his family.

Lakers President Jeanie Buss had this to say about Mikkelsen,

Vern was one of the first in a long line of great Lakers players, and a key link to our franchise’s early years in Minnesota.  We appreciate his contributions to the Lakers and our legacy, and we send our condolences and best wishes to his family.

Vern, who turned 85 last month and was an eleven year prostate cancer survivor, was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers as a territorial pick in 1949 NBA draft. All 10 of his NBA seasons were with the Lakers franchise as he played alongside other Laker greats in George Mikan and Jim Pollard. During his career, Mikkelsen was a six-time NBA all-star, named to the All-NBA second team four times, and was an integral part of four championship teams in 1950, 1952, 1953, and 1954. His averages were 14.4 points per game (10,063 points total), 9.4 rebounds per game (5,940 rebounds total), and 2.2 assist per game (1,515 assists total).

Mikkelsen was known for for his durability and tenacious defense. He played in 798 out of 800 games in his career. Alongside that statistic, Mikkelsen led the NBA in fouls for three straight years and holds the league record for fouling out of 127 contests. Vern coached and general managed after his playing career, for the Minnesota Pipers in the ABA.

In 1995 Mikkelsen was elected into the Hall of Fame with his coach John Kundla.

 

Check out two videos below on the Minneapolis Lakers and Vern Mikkelsen!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhWSir_hxz4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS53D5w1HTc

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Photo Credit: AP Photo

The Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has begun practicing with the team, has been cleared for all basketball related activities, and has stated that he hopes to return before the month of November ends. While the news certainly sparked hope and anxiousness from Lakers fans worldwide awaiting his return, they will have to keep calm as Bryant will not be returning by this weekend.

According to Yahoo! Sports reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, Bryant is still evaluating his limitations to decide when is the appropriate time for his return.

“You’ve got to be honest with yourself, and if you have those limitations, then you’ve got to figure out a way to be effective around those,” Bryant told reporters at the Lakers practice facility Tuesday. “You can’t be stubborn about that. If there are certain things that I used to do that I can’t do now, I won’t try to do them. I’ve got to figure out another way.”

Bryant has been ruled out of Friday’s game against the Golden State Warriors, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said, and league sources say that he’s ruled out the possibility of returning against Sacramento on Sunday in the Staples Center.

Photo Credit: NBA.com

Bryant is certainly one of the rarest of them all. He has surpassed basketball norms to still be one of the best players in the league today. Judging by the class of 1996 alone,  none are playing to the level Bryant is capable of at this age. Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal, and Ray Allen are the few still relevant from the class. It is even a miracle that Bryant is still playing,  let alone returning from an injury as serious as a snapped Achilles. All the while, he could be one of the top 5 players in the league when at 100%.

At this stage in his career, Bryant is right to calculate when it is best for him to return from an injury this severe. He does not have much time left and he will be sure that every minute he plays will not be one wasted, but one to prove how rare and valuable he is.

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Source: unknown
Source: Lakers.com
Source: Lakers.com

Last week, the Lakers organization donated $150,000 to the Philippine Red Cross to assist in relief efforts in the areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). The organization also plans to donate all proceeds from the Lakers Youth Foundation In-Arena Auctions at all Laker home games between November 12-24.

Pau Gasol, who won the 2012 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for his partnership with UNICEF, has also pledged to donate $1,000 for every point he scores in Friday’s game against the Warriors to Typhoon relief. Pau announced his pledge and urged fans to join him on Twitter:

This is not the first time Pau has done this; in 2010 and 2011 Pau pledged similar donations to assist in earthquake relief in Haiti and Japan. In those years Pau donated $20,000 and $18,000 respectively.

If you’re interested in joining Pau in his pledge you can do so here.

 

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Photo Credit: LA Times
Photo Credit: CBS Sports

Looking at the Lakers this season in comparison to last year something that stands out is injuries. The Lakers had a number of players out for a great deal of the year during the 2012-2013 season and because of it they were never really were able to become comfortable with one another on the floor. Injuries were just one of the many problems from last year, but to keep a long story short we will keep last year where it is; in the past.

This year, while injuries have played another key role (ie. Kobe Bryant), they have played a more significant role than previously believed with former all-star and 2-time MVP point guard Steve Nash. During the summer, Nash told media that he felt great recovering from last season and preparing for this one as he tried out for Inter Milan.

As of right now via sports journalist Peter Vecsey, Nash is considering retirement due to the severity of the injury and the nerve problems he is experiencing:

If Steve were to medically retire he would receive his contractual payment for this year and next year and he would come off the books for the Lakers next season. While monetarily this would be a good move to increase the amount the Lakers could spend during the off-season it is a major cause for concern considering Nash is a key piece of the Lakers big three.

Again, last season Nash did deal with a serious injury suffering a non-displaced fracture in his left leg that originally was going to sideline him for a week. Nash ultimately did not return to the floor for almost seven. Even after returning Nash flashed glimpses of the Steve Nash we all have come to know but never really was able to recapture his old form.

Coming back to this current season, Nash is still suffering lingering effects from that dis-placed fracture. The nerve problems he is having from this injury have caused nerve root irritation that was reportedly, thanks to USA sports’ Sam Amick, going to keep him out for two weeks.

With this news from Peter Vecsey,whatever current plans the Lakers had may be thrown out of the window. At this point, they will ultimately need to decide on what to do in the case Nash does medically retire and leave a shorthanded roster in even worse shape than it currently is.

What do you believe the Lakers should do with this new knowledge? Should they trade Nash, allow him to retire, sign another you point guard? Do you believe this injury will force him into retirement? Sound off below and I will be sure to reply!

UPDATE

Via Mark Medina of the LA Daily News, the Lakers have become adamant in their saying that Steve Nash is not considering retirement. Coach Mike D’Antoni took the stand for Nash saying that he is here for the long haul.

“He’s looking at, ‘What am I going to do when I’m 50?’ But no, he’s going to try and do everything he can to come back,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Whether he can get over this, we’ll see. We think he can. We hope he can. But there’s no talk of him sitting over there eating bon bons the rest of the way.”

A close source to Steve used the word “premature” in relation to discussion of Nash retiring because of the injury. While the tweet from Vecsey caused a stir among those within the basketball community D’Antoni again reassured everyone saying he has spent time recently with Steve.

“Steve and I have been extremely close through this process,” Bryant said. “We’re just talking, and particularly the last few games, we’ve been talking and watching the game and talking about the game and other things. I understand the frustration that comes along with that.”

While it has been cleared up that Steve is not considering retirement it still does open an interesting discussion in what the Lakers should do with their aging lead guard. Nash, who will be 40 in February, is far beyond the average age of the point guard in the NBA today. While no final decisions need to be made yet, a discussion sure does need to begin.

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Photo by: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Photo by: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NBA world isn’t just about what you do on the court. We scoured the web for Lakers-related quotations to provide you with the 10 best quotes from the past seven days:

#10:

“Did y’all see my man’s dunk though?! That thing was crazy!”

Nick Young on Xavier Henry’s dunk over the Pelicans’ Jeff Withey, via ESPN

#9:

“That’s a guy whose presence you can’t replace. He got out there today and changed the tone on his first day back with us.”

Jordan Farmar on Kobe Bryant’s first practice with the team, via the Daily News

#8:

“All the dudes with dreads play hard like that. Brian Grant. Kenneth Faried. Hill. It’s the look!”

Nick Young on Jordan Hill, via the Daily News’ Mark Medina

#7:

“He’s really good – if not our best player.”

Mike D’Antoni on Jordan Hill, via Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding

#6:

“There’s no way that (Kobe) comes back with everything, but at the same time, his 10 percent is better than most people.”

Mike D’Antoni on Kobe Bryant, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin

#5:

“I’ve always said for this year, we have great individual talent, but it’s going to take all of us working in unison together to be really successful. If we don’t do that, we’re going to lose. You’ve seen that happen on certain nights. But when you see us clicking together as a group, you see how good we can really be, and it’s fun.”

Steve Blake, via ESPN

#4:

“We didn’t see eye-to-eye. It wasn’t going to work. He has his perspective of how he wants to play, how he views how championships should be won and I have mine. It wasn’t going to be a middle ground because of how different the point of views were.”

Kobe Bryant on Dwight Howard, via his interview with Jim Rome

#3:

“We’re not good enough to be able to coast and then ramp it up in the 4th quarter and beat teams… That’s not who we are right now.”

Pau Gasol, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin

#2:

“I can’t see myself going anyplace else. I was born a Laker, this is home for me. I don’t see myself going some place else just to try to win another championship. My attitude has always been ‘it’s going to happen here or it’s not going to happen’. (…) My heart is here, I just can’t see myself playing in any place else.”

Kobe Bryant, via his interview with Jim Rome

#1:

“[My thoughts were] one: I will walk. And then immediately was ‘I got to make these two free throws. We’ve come too far, the game is right there, we’re about to getting into these playoffs and accomplish something that seemed like we were probably not going to be able to do midway into the season, so can’t fall up short now. Make these two, walk off the court and that’s it’. During the timeout, I was trying to walk and trying to find a way that I could kind of put my foot down where maybe I can go out there again for the last whatever minutes and be a threat out on the floor. It just feels like the tendon is almost rolling up into your calf so I said ‘it’s probably not a good idea to try to fight through this one. I should probably just take my behind off the court’.”

Kobe Bryant on his achilles injury, via NBA TV

What is your favorite one? Do you think any quotations got snubbed? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Photo Credit: Lakers

Kobe Bryant participated in his second practice today, a day after being medically cleared to resume basketball activities, according to the Lakers.

Photo Credit: Lakers
Photo Credit: Lakers

Bryant took part in full-court 5-on-5 drills, as well as a half-court scrimmage on the starting unit, according to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” Bryant told Mike Trudell. “I felt fine. My legs didn’t feel tired at all. I just went out there and played.”

According to the Lakers, there is no timetable set for Bryant’s return yet. But when asked whether he can see himself returning to game action this month, Bryant said he could.

“There are still areas where it needs to get stronger in terms of the jumping, being able to plant,” he told Trudell.

According to Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding, Bryant hit a “pretty” reverse layup during the half-court scrimmage, followed by an airball. He did, however, make an 18-foot fadeaway jumper over Xavier Henry, according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

Of course, Bryant’s team won: 21-3.

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Image: Getty Images

Hey Laker Nation!

This here is the first player of the week article of the season, a new weekly series I’ve started.  Every Monday I’ll post an article stating who has earned player of the week honors from the previous week. So, without further ado, let’s introduce the first player of the week:

Jordan Hill

Photo Credit | Getty Images

Jordan Hill played some great basketball this past week and has more than earned player of the week honors, however, Steve Blake came in a close second.

Hill averaged 18.8 PPG, 12 RPG, and added a nice 2.5 BPG, in 30 minutes per game this past week. Hill led the Lakers to a 2-2 record this week which could have easily been 3-1 except for a collapse against Memphis.  Hill’s play as of late has given the Lakers a great boost in their play and has definitely ignited a lackluster Lakers squad.

Hill was recently given an increase in minutes by Coach D’Antoni and it has definitely paid off as of late as Hill is infusing a great amount of energy into the lineup.

Hill had always been a monster on the boards with his tremendous hustle and ability to grab offensive rebounds to give the Lakers extra possessions.  The hustle and energy he provides are the intangibles the Lakers need while Kobe Bryant rehabs from his torn Achilles’ tendon.

Expect Hill to continue this recent trend of strong play as long as D’Antoni gives him the minutes, and don’t be surprised if Hill earns player of the week honors next week as well.

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Source: Lakers.com

The Lakers finished the week going .500 with wins against the Detroit Pistons and New Orleans Pelicans and losses to the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzles. This brings the Lakers’ season record to 5-7. With Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash still battling injuries, a few Lakers have taken on extra responsibility and stepped their game up… Here is this week’s Top to Bottom:

TOP

Source: Lakers.com

1. Jordan Hill

In the last edition of Top to Bottom I said Jordan Hill deserved more playing time and I got my wish. Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Hill has been averaging 18.75 points and 12 rebounds in about 30 minutes a game and has tallied new career highs in both scoring and rebounding. Hill broke his career high in points last Monday in the win against the Pelicans but that record didn’t last long, on Sunday Hill had a career best in both scoring and rebounding when he went for 24 points and 17 rebounds.

2. Steve Blake

With Steve Nash battling injuries, Steve Blake has taken over the starting point guard spot and he has not disappointed. Steve Blake was on the opposite end of my last list, but that seems like a long time ago now. While starting at the shooting guard, Blake only averaged 6.25 points on 27% shooting and 5.25 assists a game. This week, at the point, his averages shot up to 9.5 points on 42% shooting and 11.75 assists a game. Blake’s week ended with a season high in assists on Sunday when he notched 16 of them in the Lakers’ win over Detroit.

3. Jodie Meeks

Jodie Meeks has been impressing me more and more this season. Last year, I gave Meeks a lot of flack for not being able to finish at the basket and making poor decisions with the ball. This year, Meeks has improved his game in both those areas. Getting the starting 2 spot after Nash’s injury, Meeks averaged 15.5 points a game while hitting 54% of his long range shots. His best game of the week came in the loss agaisnt the Grizzles when Meeks lead the team in scoring with 25 points.

BOTTOM

Source: Lakers.com

1. Shawne Williams

Shawne Williams makes his second straight appearance on my bottom list this week. Williams, who lost his starting job, averaged only 4.25 points and 2.75 rebounds a game in just under 15 minutes a game. I still have not been too impressed by Williams this season… His numbers may be decent, but I have not seen anything from Williams that makes him stand out in any particular way.

2. Chris Kaman

Chris Kaman had a quiet week. In the last 4 games Kaman only averaged 6 points while shooting 34% and 4.25 rebounds in just over 15 minutes a game. Kaman found himself back on the bench, like Williams, after D’Antoni changed his starting lineup to include Jordan Hill instead. Although the numbers seem disappointing, I still believe Kaman serves a purpose on the team and can easily turn things back around.

3. Xavier Henry

Could the Henry hype be dying down already? Just a few games after topping my list, Henry found his way to the bottom. Henry didn’t have a terrible week, but the hype from week 1 has definitely deflated quite a bit. Henry shot a very decent 52% from the field but he only averaged 6.25 points a game while playing an average of just over 16 minutes. D’Antoni’s experiment of starting Henry has also seemed to have ended after finding a starting 5 that has produced well in the past week. I still believe Henry can be the X factor the Lakers need and don’t expect him to be on my bottom list for very long.

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Image: Kevin Lee | Getty Images

According to Bleacher Report’s Kevin DingKobe Bryant has now been fully cleared for all basketball activities.

Image: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Image: Noah Graham | Getty Images

Bryant’s full clearance means he can do anything and everything without restriction, as the recovery from his ruptured left Achilles tendon nears its conclusion. Bryant and the Lakers’ staff still has yet to set a target date for Bryant’s return, but full clearance is certainly a significant step in the right direction.

Bryant, who practiced this past Saturday, earned the respect of teammates for how hard he pushed himself.

“I thought he wasn’t going to go that hard,” said Jordan Hill on Saturday, “but he was really pushing it.”

Jodie Meeks was also impressed by Bryant’s work in practice.

“We were just doing drills, nothing 100 percent, but he looked really good,” added Meeks. “After being out for seven months, it’s amazing to see him our there like that.”

One of Bryant’s closest teammates, Pau Gasol, also chimed in on Bryant.

“He looked good and did a few moves I didn’t expect him to do right away,” said Gasol. “I’m very happy for him and for us, and definitely looking forward to when he’ll play in a game.”

The Lakers, currently sitting at 5-7, could use their leader back on the court as soon as possible. Bryant still remains ahead of schedule as he returns from the torn Achilles tendon he suffered back in April.

Even though he is one of the toughest players to ever play the game, Bryant still wants to be as thorough as possible with his rehabilitation to avoid returning prematurely.

With four days off until the Lakers play Golden State on Friday, expect Bryant to continue ramping up his workouts. Although there is still no set target date for his return, Bryant could be privately targeting a return on December 1st vs. Portland, after the Lakers return from their three-game road trip.

Bryant may also be targeting December 6th at Sacramento, a favorite venue of his and a game in which the Lakers have three days off prior to their matchup with the Kings.

Question marks still obviously remain about Bryant’s effectiveness, after recovering from such a serious injury; but, if any player can overcome the severity of an Achilles tear, it’s Kobe Bryant.

Back in June, Bryant made his initial prediction for his return: “shooting for November—December latest.” But Bryant also said, “once I’m ready to go, it’s gonna be on.”

Well, it’s on now.

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Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn, Getty Images

Victories for the Lakers are so few and far between these days that when they do happen (though you don’t want to feel like a total loser for rejoicing after a win against the mediocre Detroit Pistons), you hate to admit it – but you’re happy. Well, most of us are happy. They’ve had five wins in 12 tries – we were due.

Their last victory before tonight came against the Pelicans last Tuesday after the Minnesota Timberwolves ran them off their own home court, and before they threw away games against the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies. Tonight, similar to the game against New Orleans, they operated as a team (five Lakers in double figures), they moved the ball well, played decent defense and didn’t stop their efforts until the last buzzer of the night.

Jordan Hill was spectacular, as he’s been all season, and Steve Blake is really channeling his inner Stave Nash with the way he’s been running the floor since the All-Star point guard signed up for the injury list again, and because of this, the Lakers got their 114-99 victory, and the fans at Staples Center got their free tacos.

High Points
Jordan Hill – Wow. I mean, WOW. 24 points on 11-16 from the field plus 17 rebounds, and he made both of his free throw attempts. James Worthy mentioned that Hill reminds him of Laker Great A.C. Green. They were both proficient rebounders, defenders, and basically, work horses. When Hill is on the floor, he may not be the most talented, but what he lacks, he makes up for in hard work. Aside from refining that effective jumper that he worked on during the off season, he’s a natural rebounder.
Jodie Meeks – 19 points on 6-11 from the field, 4-7 from three point land that’s the Meeks we signed up for. He tossed in a corner three late in the fourth quarter and threw his head back as he ran to the bench. Inserted into the starting line to, essentially, take Kobe Bryant’s place until he returns, Meeks has done an admirable job, even leading the team in scoring.
Nick Young – Vying for the coveted Sixth Man of the Year award, Young is having a great start to his campaign with games like tonight -19 points on 7-13 from the field, including a pair of threes. He’s averaging 13 points ppg in this early season and has been a real energizer off the bench.
Ball Movement – Leading the charge in Nash’s place has been Steve Blake all the way. The Lakers had 33 assists on 47 made field goals, and Blake led the way with 16 all his own to lead the game, including a few highlight-worthy lobs to the ever-ready Wes Johnson. Right behind him were Pau Gasol, who handed out seven dimes, and Jordan Farmar, who send out five assists but was so active on the floor that it seemed like he collected more. In any case, when you lose one of the best point guards to ever play the game in Nash, you don’t replace him with just anyone, but Blake and company have sure done a great job nonetheless.
Strong Finish – The knock on the Lakers in almost every loss that wasn’t a blowout, is that they can’t sustain their effort until the end. Tonight, fortunately for them, this was not the case. After a so-so first half that only had them behind by six points, the Lakers exploded in the third quarter for a dominant 29-15 effort. They shot 60% in that quarter to the Pistons’ 28%. In the fourth quarter, they led by as much as 19 points and fended off any Detroit run.

Low Points
Pistons Free Throws – 7-17 from the charity stripe. The Lakers only attempted 10 themselves, but they actually converted all 10. Detroit was completely abysmal at the line.

Not every Laker shone as bright as the other tonight, but since their collective efforts meant so much more to this win than a 2-8 night by Shawne Williams, it doesn’t seem fair to hold them to consider them low points. A win is a win.

The team has four days off until their next game on Friday night against the Golden State Warriors, who seem like they’ve played the Lakers about a dozen times since they met often in the pre-season. Kobe Bryant started practice with the team this weekend but, as usual, no definite date has been announced. Maybe this 4-day break is buying him some more time before returning against the Warriors? Far-reaching, for sure, but it never hurts to hope.

Box Score

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Image: Jeff Gross | Getty Images
Image: Jeff Gross | Getty Images
Image: Jeff Gross | Getty Images

With contributions by Kanta Ito.

Kobe Bryant officially practiced for the first time this season yesterday, giving the struggling Lakers an emotional boost.

Bryant has increased the intensity of his rehab within the past few weeks, in an attempt to return to the floor as soon as possible. He seeks to help re-energize a current Lakers squad, who just lost a heartbreaker to the Memphis Grizzlies this past Friday.

The Lakers, a subpar 4-7 this season, now must tread water and stay near a .500 winning record until Bryant makes his season debut.

“He got out there today and changed the tone on his first day back with us,” Lakers point guard Jordan Farmar explained to TWC SportsNet Studio Analyst Dave Miller.

Bryant’s return will fill the biggest void for the Lakers this season. Luckily, his new supporting cast should make his return to the floor more rewarding—thanks to the new additions General Manager Mitch Kupchak and VP of Basketball Operations Jim Buss made this offseason, despite facing stringent financial restrictions.

The Lakers no longer need to make Bryant responsible for covering the opponent’s best guard each game.

Young, athletic guards like Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks and Xavier Henry have shown that they can match up with the opponent’s most talented guard this season. Bryant can now feel comfortable in saving his energy for the 4th quarter on the defensive end—an option that did not exist for him last year, due to the overall lack of athleticism and defensive talent in the backcourt.

Offensively, expect Bryant to attack the most from the post, where he can use his variety of post moves and tremendous footwork to create his own shot, similar to the great Hakeem Olajuwon. Bryant’s ability to create shots for himself and his teammates from the post will help ease his return onto the floor.

Better shooters also now surround surround Bryant; since all five opposing defenders now have to account for Bryant every time he possesses the ball, Bryant can help find his teammates wide open shots.

The Lakers are shooting a respectable 40.7% from three-point range this season—a vast improvement from the 35.5% clip from the three-point line last year. This should improve even more, however, with the combination of more open shots from Bryant’s presence and the better overall shooters like Meeks, Steve BlakeNick Young, and Shawne Williams.

Although Steve Nash currently battles nerve damage in his back, Blake and Farmar can stability give the Lakers stability in the backcourt alongside Bryant. These are two key guys who have gained the trust of Bryant to handle the ball and run the offense from the point guard position.

Nick Young, a SG/SF, also fills a void as a player, other than Bryant, who possesses the skill to create his own shot with confidence. Young will help Lakers’ head coach Mike D’Antoni keep Bryant’s minutes down by default, and prevent situations where Bryant would have to play entire games again.

Jordan Hill, who has practically won some games for the Lakers this year, once again gives the Lakers a tremendous boost of energy from power forward/center position. After coach D’Antoni surprised most fans by inserting him into the starting lineup, Hill has not slowed down—scoring 21 and 18 points in his first two starts with the Lakers.

Most importantly, Hill creates extra possession for the Lakers—averaging 3.2 offensive rebounds per game, despite playing limited minutes so far. Expect Hill to move up to the top 10 in the offensive rebounding category, however, and continue to create extra possessions for the Lakers after moving into the starting lineup.

Finally, let’s not dismiss Pau Gasol yet. Although Gasol currently battles a left foot strain, he still can make a significant impact to this Laker squad. His high basketball IQ to create shot for himself and others in the post, and his ability to rebound the ball, still make him a major key to a successful season. Gasol’s lateral movement and quickness should return as he plays his way into shape and his foot strain improves.

This season, the Lakers have a balance of youthful athleticism and veteran leadership. This team also has tremendous team chemistry, something that makes any team better overall.

As a result, Laker Nation should feel optimistic about the Lakers going forward. Those who believe that Bryant’s game will depreciate have to realize that this is Kobe Bean Bryant.

There is one athlete on this planet with the will, drive, determination, and relentlessness to return to full strength from such a devastating injury.  Kobe Bryant is that athlete.

“The enjoyment of the game, the love of it, and the low-hanging fruit of responding to this challenge. It’s right there. It’s easy to get me going,” Bryant recently explained to former teammate Rick Fox in an interview with NBATV.

With Bryant close to leading his squad back into battle again, never count the Lakers out of anything.

Despite the Lakers’ slow start, and having the lowest expectation as a team in years, Bryant still recently told TWC SportsNet commentator Kevin Frazier that he “ain’t worried about nothing.”

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Kobe Bryant
Image: Getty Images

Today, Kobe Bryant joined the Lakers’ practice for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon in April.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Bryant has been ramping up activity for some time, and his goal has been to return to game action within two to three weeks of returning to practice:

Bryant had been gathering momentum with weeks of increased running, shooting and basketball-related activities that culminated with him rejoining the Lakers on the practice court on Saturday morning.

Bryant has made remarkable progress from such serious injury, but it’s unclear how long it will take for him to return to play his first game this season. All along, Bryant had hoped he could play his first game within two to three weeks of his return to practice. Still, his debut will depend on how he progresses in full-contact workouts with his team.

The Lakers practice was not full contact, instead consisting of 5 on 0 drills and shooting, but Bryant participated throughout, and boosted his teammates’ morale.

Bryant said he felt good, but did not offer a concrete return date.

This comes as welcomed news for Lakers fans, as the team has mustered a mere 4-7 record thus far in Bryant’s absence.

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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.