This trailer is in anticipation of the upcoming Troy Cruz Film: #ForBuss, presented in associated with STNTV. The short film shows the journey of the 2013 Los Angeles Lakers after the passing of their owner and leader Dr. Jerry Buss. Would they fall without their long time leader, or find the strength within each other to succeed into the playoffs?
With just over three minutes left in last Friday’s game against Golden State, Kobe Bryant walked off the court for the last time this season. Since then, the Lakers have won every game, securing the seventh seed in the Western Conference. In doing so, they avoid the defending Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.
The Lakers shot 36.7% in their last game against Houston. They shouldn’t have won that game. But they did. The Rockets hit a three at the end of regulation to force overtime. The Lakers were supposed to crumble without their closer. But they didn’t. They didn’t because they stepped up their defense. Their collective effort forced stop after stop. Even when the Lakers turned the ball over, they ran back and forced a miss. When they missed a jumper, they got back and blocked a shot. And when the Rockets made their only shot of the extra period, Jodie Meeks drove to the basket and threw one down.
Kobe’s ruptured Achilles awakened the heart of this Lakers team. His last two points of the season brought the Staples Center crowd to its feet, and on their feet they stayed until the Overtime buzzer that brought an end to the regular season. The hurt and devastation that stormed L.A. that Friday night were quickly replaced by hope and promise. The clouds cleared. The sun came back out. Because we all know what our team is capable of. Because Coach Vino will be on the bench every step of the way. Because winning is all we know.
The Lakers started the season 0-3. They were below .500 until March. They were plagued by injuries all season long. They weren’t supposed to be here. They weren’t supposed to make the playoffs. But they did. As the seventh seed, no less. And they’re playing inspired basketball. For Kobe. For Dr. Buss. For the city of Angels. For that 17th banner.
Mike D’Antoni certainly had a good night last Wednesday. Not only the Los Angeles Lakers clinched the seventh seed in the West with an overtime victory over the Houston Rockets, but also general manager Mitch Kupchak stated after the game that there won’t be any changes at the head coaching position for the 2013-2014 season, as first reported by the L.A. Times. On top of that, D’Antoni was named today the Western Conference Coach of the Month.
Yeah, he’s back. I think he’s done a great job,” Kupchak told The L.A. Times. “There’s been no discussions otherwise.
Kupchak acknowledged that being the Lakers head coach this season would’ve been a tough task for anyone. The extremely high expectations since day one, the several injuries to the team’s best players, the media and fans pressure and the struggles on the court have been putting the captain of the Purple and Gold ship in the spotlight night in and night out, with even more intensity than what is normal with anything related to the Lakers franchise and its huge tradition.
I think under the circumstances, Mike did a great job. We don’t anticipate any kind of a change. No training camp, all the injuries, through the end of the season he’s done a great job. He doesn’t get enough credit, and understandably so. We struggled through two-thirds of the season, and expectations were so high. The Lakers didn’t help things by making the coaching change and putting Mike in that situation, which he was glad to take. I thought he made adjustments and remained flexible with the players. We’re not playing the same way we played when he first got here.
However, that full support to D’Antoni was most likely not the case on January 28th, when the Purple and Gold hit eight games below the 0.500 mark with a loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis. But the season took an upswing from that point on, as the Lakers won 28 of their remaining 40 contests in the regular season to get back into the playoff race and secure a spot in the post-season. In other words, D’Antoni’s squad won 70% of their games since the loss in Memphis, an average equal to the Spurs’ for the whole season, their opponents in the first round of the Playoffs.
The icing on the cake came in the way of being named the Coach of the Month in the Western Conference, as the Lakers won seven of their eight games in April, including five straight victories, to grab the seventh playoff seed while having to adjust to Kobe Bryant’s season-ending injury.
The Purple and Gold will certainly hope that Mike D’Antoni can turn that award into Coach of the Year, whether it happens this season or in the next one.
In a pre-game interview, John Ireland asked Coach Mike D’Antoni what he planned to tell the team in order to get ready for tonight’s game.
“Bad things are gonna happen, “ D’Antoni said. “But don’t tie your troubles together.”
There were certainly troubles with which the Lakers had to face tonight. A team who averaged the second most points during the regular season (a mere .1 ppg difference to number one Denver), the Houston Rockets are filled with three-point shooters and one James Harden. And despite not being known for their defensive abilities, the Rockets doubled Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol effectively inside, hindering the Lakers’ size advantage at scoring. So the home team couldn’t stop James Harden from drawing fouls or hitting his shots, and the big men couldn’t score themselves.
Fortunately, instead of mulling over everything they’d done wrong in the first half (that is, “tying their troubles together”), the Lakers came out with a more courageous effort in the second half, and furthermore five minutes of overtime. In the end, they pulled out the 99-95 win.
HIGH POINTS: Hello, New Big Three – With Kobe Bryant sidelined for the remainder of the season, a new steady hand has risen in his place. Steve Blake aka the Blake Mamba aka Vino Bianco, followed his exceptional 23-point game against the Spurs with another big contribution. 24 points (which included four three-pointers), 8-8 from the free throw line, seven rebounds, seven assists, and just a single turnover in almost 48 minutes of playing time. Yes, almost 48 minutes. When Blake stepped in for Bryant, he apparently also inherited the minutes, not to mention the fearlessness. Blake is not afraid of the moment. Quite a few of his shots were made during the final seconds of the shot clock and with chances to grab the offensive board, he was right there around the hoop with all the bigs, reaching for those rebounds. His final contribution of the night – two made free throws that sealed the win. Pau Gasol – 17 points, 20 rebounds, 11 assists and two blocks – That would be two triple-doubles in three games for the resident Spaniard. Gasol earned every point he scored, every board he grabbed, every pass he sent off to a teammate. If ever there was a game to signal a gut check for Gasol, it was tonight. Howard may be the future leader of this team (and he has shown many qualities of said leadership this week), but the seniority, for what it’s worth, and the ultimate example of team-first mentality on this team, belongs to Gasol, who has the experience and that seemingly unshakable something that Howard is still in the process of earning – Kobe Bryant’s ultimate trust. It was Gasol with whom Bryant wanted to speak during halftime in the last game. It’s Gasol whom Bryant calls, “mi hermano,” my brother, and it was Bryant who tweeted after the game, “Can the talk of trading Pau Gasol come to a cease now??” After a few more games like tonight, maybe they will. Dwight Howard – Along with Gasol, Howard was constantly surrounded by defenders around the rim,
and was forced to pass it to an open shooter or force a shot up himself. As a result, he went just 2-9 from the field for his four first-half points. In the second half and overtime, however, Howard figured it out and hit 4-6 from the field. He finished with 16 points, but it wasn’t his offense that helped get this win. Just as he was brought here to do, Howard exercised his defensive acumen, and brought his teammates with him. In the final 2:26 of overtime, and the Lakers nursing a 92-91 lead, Harden drove to the hoop and Howard simply grabbed the ball from his grasp. With under a minute left, Harden attempted a jumper, only to be met by a block from Howard. Where Kobe is clutch in the final minutes because of his prolific offensive abilities, Howard is clutch by way of his defense. Key On D – Defense was the buzzword of the last few Laker games. Tonight, it was the cause of their victory. After shooting just 37% from the field (!), the Lakers had to rely on their defense to save this game. After giving up 50 points in the first half to Houston, they gave up just 40 points in the final two quarters, and just five points in overtime. James Harden had 30 points, but needed 25 shots to get there. They also just held Houston to 95 points, nine points less than their season average. Rebounds – The Lakers outrebounded Houston 57-46. Blake, Howard and Gasol alone owned 45 of those 57 boards. With 17 offensive rebounds, the Lakers managed to score 24 second chance points to the Rockets’ seven. Turnovers – The Lakers gave up just 13 turnovers, which led to 14 Houston points. Also a result of those turnovers, the Rockets beat them 19-0 in fast break scoring. Seventh Heaven – For weeks, the Lakers have been fighting for the coveted (not) eighth seed, and now they’ve got the seventh, which is probably the one item of “good fortune” they’ve received all season. They’ll be matched up with the San Antonio Spurs, in what should be a (hopefully) competitive series. Excitement – Despite it being the final game of the regular season, tonight’s contest had every bit of a playoff-type atmosphere than most games all season. Chandler Parson’s three going in at the buzzer at the end of regulation, and forcing the game into overtime was the absolute icing on this exciting cake of a game.
LOW POINTS: Offensive Eyesore – Oh it was so, so ugly. 33-90 from the field (37%) and 10-32 from three. Houston’s defense really made it difficult for Howard and Gasol, or anyone, to score in the paint. They double-teamed the bigs each time they entered the area around the rim. Passes were sent out to shooters. Unfortunately, the Lakers didn’t exactly shoot lights out from downtown. Jodie Meeks, who went just 1-7, has been in search of his stroke for quite awhile now. If the Spurs defend the Lakers as Houston did, Meeks has got to hit those open shots. Odd Rotations – With Bryant out, the Lakers’ coaching staff had to figure out their rotations. D’Antoni has been a creature of habit this second half of the season, sticking to eight, sometimes seven-men rotations. Tonight he played nine players, including Andrew Goudelock, who was just resigned by the Lakers up from the D-league. It seemed like a random trial, with Darius Morris getting some play as well, but at least Morris went 2-2 from the field.
* * *
Troubles – the Lakers have encountered it in bunches this season, and they’ve had every chance in the world to succumb to the constant criticism and doubt that resulted from the numerous injuries, trade rumors and frustration with trying to build chemistry on a team filled with new players. They went through losing streak after losing streak, hitting rock bottom at eight games under .500 and then falling in and out of playoff eligibility. Then the mother of all problems came in the 80th game of the regular season when their leader suffered a season-ending injury. The hits kept on coming, but the Lakers kept on fighting.
With Utah losing to the Memphis Grizzlies, and taking themselves out of playoff contention, the Lakers could have just as easily mailed this game in and rested before starting a series with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Though a series with the San Antonio Spurs is a more desirable match-up, the Lakers weren’t just going to play to get the last game of the regular season out of the way.
“7th seed or 8th seed – we want to earn our way into the playoffs,” D’Antoni said before the game to say.
If the team couldn’t win tonight, he went on, then they didn’t deserve to be there.
Well they did earn their way, in the most tumultuous and most challenging of seasons.
And, according to Dwight Howard, they will more than just earn that position, “We won for each other and we’re not done yet.”
It’s bittersweet. Because, I think it’s spectacular and it’s very impressive and it’s remarkable to be able to play 48 minutes and score 47 points. That’s incredible. On the other hand, I’m a player that likes to see a little bit more ball movement and better balance. I’ve always been [like that]. That’s just how I perceive this game.
Pau Gasol, after the Lakers win over the Blazers, when Kobe Bryant scored 47 points, via ESPN
At the end of the game, Pau was looking for Kobe, and I’m like, ‘What the hell are you looking for Kobe for? Go to work. You don’t have time for spectating. Everybody go to work. The five guys that are on that floor? We go to work. We’re not watching. We don’t take pictures. That’s what you guys [in the media] are for, you take pictures. We’re not taking pictures out there. We can’t even bring a camera on the floor if we had a chance.
Metta World Peace, also after the Lakers win over the Blazers, via ESPN
It’d be hard for me to go through another season of uncertainty, of being that player that can always be interchangeable or moved away for the right opportunity that might come along or not. We’ll revaluate, but at the end of the day, I’m getting closer to the last few years of my career and I want to have an enjoyable time in a situation where I’m wanted, I’m used properly and I can maximise my qualities and talents.
My knee wanted to play. My knee said, ‘Let’s go.’ My knee was talking to me at night … My knee was like, ‘Go. Get up and go. Don’t worry. Just keep going.’ My knee calls me, ‘Metta.’ It said, ‘You’re doing good, Metta. Just keep going, keep working, keep working and just stay ready. Just be ready to go. Don’t worry about me.’ Because I was worried about my knee. I was like, ‘Knee, are you alright?’ And my knee said, ‘Hey don’t worry about me. I’m alright.’ We talk, we bond. I said, ‘It don’t feel alright. It’s kind of sore right now.’ My knee said, ‘Stop acting like a little wuss and play.’ So I did. So I played.
I can relate to him because I know exactly how he feels. For him, when he’s at the top of his game and has a major injury like that, all the questions start to come from everyone on what will he be when he comes back and will he be the same player and will he do certain things. I can relate to everything he’s feeling right now with the pain, the hurt, wishing he could play, all that stuff. That’s something that is very close to me.
It had nothing to do with the minutes he had been playing or anything of that sort. A torn Achilles tendon is a very freaky injury. Everybody is trying to look at somebody to blame for it whether it’d be the coaching staff, Kobe, me or whatever it is. But it’s more of a freakish injury than anything else. The battle with this kind of injury is going to be from the neck up. If he decides he wants to do this, it will get done. I’m not worried about the physical part of it. I’m worried about the mental state.
Kobe Bryant’s personal trainer Tim Grover, via KTLA
It’s just a tough hit, tough blow for everyone and for the ones who love him and have a great respect for him, even more. It’s hard for me to see him like that. He doesn’t deserve it … I hate that it happened to him. He works so hard. He’s the most dedicated guy that I ever met and he had the courage and the strength to talk to (the media). I don’t know if I could have done it. So, again that’s very remarkable. It was incredible that he was able to walk it off without help to the bench and he wanted to shoot the two free throws, made those two free throws with a torn Achilles, probably. So, again, just incredible the type of person, the type of player he is.
Two games remain. Two games that will decide this team’s playoff fate. Two games the Lakers must play without their heart, their soul, their leader. How better to honor the fallen teammate than to perceive with the fierced passion that he brings, to play through pain and exhaustion like he has? And to find a way by any means necessary. Tonight, the show must go on.
81 games weren’t quite enough to decide the Western Conference playoff picture. The Lakers will need game #82 – at home vs. the Houston Rockets on Wednesday – to determine their immediate fate.
Depending on what happens over the course of about six hours on Wednesday night, the Lakers could find themselves as high as #7, and as low as, well… falling out of the playoff picture all together. Here are the scenarios:
Best Case Scenario:
The Lakers beat the Rockets on Wednesday night. The Jazz would be eliminated from playoff contention, and the Lakers would finish as the #7 seed, giving them the Spurs in the first round. The Rockets would finish #8, booking them a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder in Round 1.
Phew, That Was Close Scenario:
The Lakers lose to the Rockets on Wednesday, but the Jazz also lose to the Grizzlies. In this situation, the Rockets would finish at #7, giving them San Antonio in Round 1. The Lakers would finish #8, and draw Oklahoma City in the first round. The Jazz would be eliminated from the postseason.
The Sky Caves in on Staples Center Scenario:
The Lakers lose to the Rockets on Wednesday, and the Jazz win in Memphis against the Grizzlies. The Lakers would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005, the Rockets would finish #7, and the Jazz would finish #8. We’re not going to talk about this happening…
Wednesday Night Schedule:
The Jazz vs. Grizzlies game will get underway at 5:00pm PT at Fed Ex Forum in Memphis. The Lakers vs. Rockets game tips at 7:30pm PT at Staples Center. Most likely, we’ll know the outcome of the Jazz game by the time things get going at Staples Center.
Running backwards toward the Spurs’ hoop, Dwight Howard motioned for his teammates to hurry back on defense. It was but a small gesture that spoke volumes. With Kobe Bryant out for the rest of the season, Steve Nash still sitting out and the Lakers’ place in the playoffs still indefinite, this team needs the rest of its leaders to speak up and step up. Howard was locked in from tip-off to his post-game sideline interview tonight, uncharacteristically maintaining a serious poker face throughout. Pau Gasol, having a horrible shooting night, managed to impact the game on the side of the court for which he is often maligned – defense. And Steve Blake, starting for the injured Nash, rose to the challenge and contributed in the biggest ways. For their efforts, they got the win, 91-86.
HIGH POINTS: Dwight Howard – He spoke in the huddle after practice on Saturday afternoon and he spoke in the same circle as the Lakers prepared to make their entrance from the tunnel. Howard reminded his teammates this weekend that even without Bryant, they still have the talent to accomplish something great, and tonight he showed that he can not only lead with words, but by example. He went at Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter on both ends of the floor, attacking on offense and hindering on defense. He finished with 26 points on 9-15 from the field (8-17 from the free throw line, often as a result of Hack-a-Howard), 17 rebounds, two steals and three blocks. Steve Blake - #whitemamba and #vinoblanco were trending on Twitter tonight, all referring to the player who missed 37 games this season, but has played the best since donning the purple and gold uniform. What a night Blake had – 23 points on 8-16 from the field (20 of which came in the first half), 4-8 from downtown, five rebounds, four assists, a pair of steals and some sticky defense on Tony Parker. Ranked 14th in the league from the three-point line, Blake has played with immense confidence since he returned from injury. Whether coming off the bench or starting, he has proven that he is ready to impact the game from whichever role he has to play. In the past four games, he’s averaged 13 ppg, 4.5 apg, 5 rpg and 1.3 spg. Pau Gasol – It was one of the Spaniard’s worst shooting nights, just 3-17 from the field for this seven points. However, despite his struggles offensively, Gasol still managed to impact the game with 16 huge rebounds, three blocks and a steal. Perhaps a halftime conversation with Bryant gave him some encouragement. He said after the game that Bryant texted trainer, Gary Vitti, asking to speak with his co-captain. In a short conversation, Bryant told Gasol not to worry about his missed shots and continue to be aggressive. Note taken and applied. Defense – What’s worse than the Lakers shooting just 37.1% for the game? How about the Spurs at 36.5%? It wasn’t the prettiest of offensive shows tonight, but despite just two players shooting better than 50%, the Lakers found a way to win by maintaining their effort on the other end of the floor. Except for their 52.6% shooting in the final quarter, the Spurs didn’t shoot better than 38% in the previous three. Tony Parker didn’t hit his one and only field goal until the third quarter, and for the night was held to just four points on 1-10. Tim Duncan was 9-14 in the first and fourth quarters, but was 2-8 in the second and third. The Lakers also outrebounded San Antonio 58-46 and collected 11 steals. The Spurs were held to just 86 points on 36.5% shooting.
LOW POINTS: Ugly Offense – Only five players in the game shot 50% or better from the field. Without Duncan and Bonner, the Spurs went just 19-63 from the field – 30%. The Lakers were even worse. Without Howard, Blake and Jamison, the rest of the team was just 10-46 – 22%. Defense – Though the Lakers’ efforts on defense can be commended, there were areas that still left much to be desired. They still gave up 42 points in the paint, and allowed the Spurs 17 points on the break. Early Turnovers – The Lakers racked up nine turnovers in the first half, giving up 11 points to the Spurs as a result. The team was very active to start the game, to be sure, with Metta World Peace and Gasol both grabbing steals on consecutive defensive possessions, but the Lakers tried numerous times to play at a quicker pace tonight, and as a result, turned the ball over.
The Spurs are not just a playoff team – they have the second best record in the Western Conference and the third best record in the league. Manu or no Manu, they’re still a team coached by one of the best in the NBA in Greg Popovich and are led by two of the most elite players in their respective positions in Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. With everything they’ve gone through, the Lakers should have crumbled to the bottom of the heap by now, with the latest injury to Bryant propelling them to a complete collapse, but here they are still standing, still fighting, just as their bed-ridden leader would have wanted.
Goudelock was released before the 12-13 season but has since proven himself in the Developmental League. This season he has averaged 21.4 points, 4.1 rebound, and 5.8 assists per game while receiving praise as candidate for the D-League MVP.
With Bryant being out and the Lakers looking for more scoring Goudelock’s, eventual, signing could not have come at a better time. His style of play fits perfectly with what D’Antoni is trying to accomplish. He will also be able to relieve pressure of both Gasol and Howard in the post as he has a reliable three point shot and can heat up quickly.
While many on the East Coast were sleeping, and perhaps some on the West Coast were getting their party on, the Lakers season took a turn off a winding road and ended in fatality. Kobe Bryant tore his achilles tendon in the game against Golden State, and tore the still beating hearts out from Lakers fans everywhere. Bryant is obviously done for the season, and now stares up at perhaps the steepest mountain in his basketball career. I am not here to join in the fray of countless people who will be blogging eulogies about Kobe and his remarkable career, nor will I be talking about the poor Lakers and how the Bryant injury is yet another set back to the team. Instead, I am going to speak about a different subject matter. I am going to speak about the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This is NOT an obituary for Kobe Bryant.
To say Kobe Bryant epitomized the all too familiar sports cliche about leaving it all on the floor, would be short changing the man and his efforts put forth for the sake of the team. Kobe Bryant has been Superman for the Lakers all season long. He has been the one doing all the heroic rescuing, all the heavy lifting, and putting himself in harms way to save the Lakers. He has been doing it so much, that his body finally betrayed him for logging all those minutes on the court, not to mention all the prep work before the games just to get his body to cooperate with him so he could play another game. Kobe has had to do EVERYTHING all season long, just to be able to drag the rest of the team with him so they could cross the finish line in 8th place in this marathon called the NBA season.
When the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic, they were told they were getting Superman. There would be no need for Kobe to extend his minutes, or lay his body on the line night after night. Instead, what we found out real fast was that Superman didn’t come flying in from Orlando like a bird or a plane, he came limping into Los Angeles, and never fully assumed his role of Superman. He grew comfortable with the role of Clark Kent, and so did the rest of the team. Game after game, we waited for someone other than Kobe to step up and be the man. Game after game, we were disappointed. The whole Lakers team collectively kept tugging on Kobe’s cape, and kept looking for Kobe to rescue them. Kobe is an intelligent person, and plays the game with a hunger that could be compared to that of a newborn child craving milk. When your NBA career contains that kind of DNA, his choice was simple. He accepted the role of Superman, and let everyone else on the team call themselves Clark Kent.
The question is not can the Lakers make the playoffs without Kobe, the question becomes WHO are the Lakers without Kobe? The Lakers in all probability have anywhere from two to maybe seven or eight games left in this season to begin to formulate an idea as to who they are, what they want to look like, and where they want to go. I am generously giving them seven or eight games in this season, provided they can stave off the Jazz for the eight seed, and then go quietly into the night after the first round matchup with the Spurs or Thunder. Will someone stick their hand up and assume the role of Superman? Will someone even be able to muster up the courage to take on the responsibility? Who’s coming out of the phone booth these last two games to rescue this team? Who’s the new super hero going to be for the seasons to come? Cape or shirt and tie? Superman or Clark Kent? Well? I’m waiting.
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.