Archives For Los Angeles Lakers

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In the skyway back to the parking lot after the Minnesota Timberwolves’ comprehensive mangling of the Los Angeles Lakers 143-107, two Laker fans stood vigil with a view of the exit to the visiting team bus. This was well after most of the crowd had made their way to their cars and the skyway was mostly empty.

Below, other fans stood a meager layer deep waiting for a dejected Lakers team to make their way to the bus. The 143 points Minnesota put up set a new Timberwolves franchise record and also gave them their largest win since a 42-point victory over the Thunder on Jan. 7, 2009. Their 67.1% shooting set a single-game franchise record and was the highest in the NBA so far this season. Kevin Love had a triple double at the end of the third quarter. Nikola Pekovic was a plus-38, Jordan Hill a minus-38. The Wolves biggest lead was 41 points, the Lakers biggest lead, zero.

These two Lakers fans, in jerseys and hats, in Forum blue and gold, waited. If this Laker team manages two more wins this season, they’ll be spared the ignominy of having the second-worst win total in Laker history, beating out their 25-50 finish in 1959-60 and their 19-53 finish in 1957-58. They were still the Minneapolis Lakers during those two seasons. Terrible basketball has a long tradition in Minnesota.

Maybe that’s why these fans who come out of the woodwork in the visiting team’s colors for games against the Lakers, the Heat, are such easy targets. Being a Wolves fan for any serious amount of time demands resilience. It fosters a mistrust of success, an expectation of disappointment. At the core of this fandom is the sense that it has to be earned with hardship, not bought in the form of a #24 jersey with “BRYANT” on the back.

Even an offensive explosion like last night’s — a game Nikola Pekovic, back from injury, called “a triumph from the very first moment” — is going to bring with it a sour little note: Where was this kind of performance when it could have gotten them into the playoffs, when it could have mattered?

But “mattered” is a strangely relative term. Since the Wolves have fallen out of contention for a playoff spot, they’ve been peppered with questions about what there’s left to play for and they’ve given the same bland, generic responses that most athletes do in such situations. Stuff about still having things to learn, about seeing where they are for next year, about playing hard because that’s what you do.

But last night there was a little pure joy in the game. Returning to the bench after starting six games and putting up a double-double in all but one of them, Gorgui Dieng got a hero’s welcome when he checked into the game for the first time at the 4:17 mark of the first quarter. Some of the applause was also no doubt for Pekovic’s sterling effort in that first quarter, where he went 4-4 and scored 12 points. And some of it may have been for the simple fact that a bench player checking in for the Wolves was not a reason to nervously bite your fingernails. Dieng acquitted himself well in his backup role with 14 points and 9 rebounds. (“The guys were giving him a pretty hard time there with only nine rebounds,” said Adelman in his postgame presser.)

And as the third quarter was ending with the Wolves up comfortably, an errant Laker shot bounced harmlessly towards the Wolves bench. Love was the closest to the ball and the Minnesota bench, well aware of his 22 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds, starting shouting, “GET IT! GET IT! GET IT!” When Love gamely scooped the ball off the ground for a buzzer beating rebound, they cheered. In the break between quarters they patted him on the back and smiled. Everyone was just having a good time.

You can take what you will from a historic win like this at the tail end of a disappointing season. You can say that when the chips are down, this team didn’t step up, that their inability to close out games shows a lack of character. That any team can have a good time when they’re romping all over an opponent as hopeless as the Lakers. That Love is leaving so none of it matters. I get it: It’s a weird thing how at the end of a bad thing, there are good things.

But then I think about those Lakers fans waiting for their team — without Kobe Bryant, without Pau Gasol, without any clear path beyond lottery luck — and I think about why they’re out there in the skyway. It’s possible they’re Los Angeles transplants, that they grew up there and grew up with the Lakers, that they’re sticking by their hometown team. But I would almost prefer for them to be bandwagon fans who jumped on a frontrunner because of the glitz, the rings, the Black Mamba. Maybe the weird thing for them is that they actually started liking the team and now they can’t get out of it.

One way or another, we end up places. We get there by a mix of things we can control and things we can’t, and then we have the choice of either leaving or sticking around. Those Lakers fans and this Timberwolves team last night are a reminder: If you’re sticking around, at least try to enjoy yourself. It’s just much easier on your constitution.

LoveDoingStuff

I used to play basketball with a guy we’ll call Chris. We’ll call him Chris because that’s his name. I never actually knew his last name. He went to my old gym in Sacramento and was part of the regular games we’d run on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday nights. He’d also be around for Thursday nights sometimes but that was typically just two-on-two basketball. Those Thursday night two-on-two runs were the toughest ones.

A lot of people would rather play full court basketball for many reasons, but mostly it’s because it’s so much easier than half court basketball. Full court pick-up basketball is mostly a game of cardio and skill. Sure, it’s not going to be two hours of fast breaks but you’re getting to choose the type of workout and effort you’re giving. That’s not so much the case when you’re suckered into playing a half court pickup game. Half court basketball requires a lot more strength than you’d play in a normal basketball game.

You’re not getting space by running the floor and putting pressure on the defense to pick up. Instead, you have to constantly use physical play and more muscle to find the necessary space in a half court game to make plays. There is more pushing, more positioning, and much more physicality. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a different style of basketball that forces you to exert more energy throughout your body, rather than just getting some good cardio in.

Watching the way the Los Angeles Lakers adjusted to Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but think of that guy Chris when we had to play two-on-two with him.

Chris was physical. He ended up joining the Marines at some point, so he was a very tough guy. He had very little basketball skill, but he could throw his 6’3″ body around, hack the crap out of your arms, and was borderline dangerous to play against because he was clumsy in the way he moved around you. You knew you were going to get beat up a bit if you played against Chris because that’s just the way he played.

We saw something similar in the second half against the Lakers. All of a sudden, they turned a free-flowing game they couldn’t keep up with into a physical game they had nothing to lose from being in. We already had Gorgui Dieng take one in the temple and leave the game. Luckily, he’s fine. Then for some ungodly reason, Nick Young figured out if you pressure the hell out of Corey Brewer, he’s largely ineffective on offense. He started denying Brewer the ball 40 feet from the basket and it took a few possessions for the Wolves to just forego the unnecessary ball swing that starts with Brewer.

By that time, the rhythm of the game that the Wolves had controlled was dead and they were finding themselves in a bit of a scrappy affair.

I wonder how much of the second half of this game was the Wolves not taking a horrendous Lakers’ roster/lineup seriously and how much of it was the Lakers adjusting perfectly to what the Wolves were trying to do. It was probably a healthy portion of each and the Wolves just figured talent would win out. And it did, but not without paying an unnecessary price.

Robert Sacre is a big physical guy. He has some basketball skill and showed a decent little touch around the basket and with his jumper in this game. But mostly, he’s out there to bang some bodies around and give guys bruises. He’s such a big human being that he probably doesn’t even realize the force in which he hits people. He’s also such a solid mass of muscle that large human beings just bounce off of him when they collide. That’s what happened when Kevin Love drove against Wes Johnson with a little over four minutes left in the fourth quarter of a game that should have been long over.

First off, this was scary. I was behind the Wolves’ bench on the other end of the floor and I heard him slam into the ground as the crowd is making noise. That is a loud thud, my friends. He abused his tailbone there and had some whiplash that caused his head to snap back and hit the ground. However, he was so lucid and didn’t complain about his head that they didn’t feel the need to test for a concussion. I’m not sure I agree with this assessment, even though he did seem fine, but that’s the trainer’s call to make. He clearly knows that job better than I do.

Love stayed in for most of the rest of the game, was a warrior on the boards, scored a few points, and the Wolves avoided an embarrassing loss. Sacre was physical with Love in help and Wes Johnson managed to harass him plenty. They hammered him on the boards and ran to make him work as his body was probably screaming at him to go sit down.

It was that unnecessary use of muscle due to letting the Lakers make it an ugly game that allowed such a dangerous situation to present itself. Instead of free-flowing, it turned uncoordinatedly physical. They were shoving all over the half court instead of running in the open court because they didn’t adjust or didn’t take it seriously or whatever reason there is. They were always going to beat the Lakers because talent pretty much always wins out in the NBA as long as an acceptable level of effort is there. But instead of the third unit handling the final six minutes, the Wolves screwed around and let it be closer than it needed to be.

It’s not a huge deal; it’s just hopefully a reminder to the team of how important it is to take advantage of an inferior opponent by exerting the necessary energy to put the game away early. If you don’t, you run the risk of your star player nearly getting a concussion for no reason.

RA32213

Coaching is a dark art. I’ve long been wary of judging coaches based on what we can see of their job: how they are on the bench, how they use their timeouts, what plays they call out of timeouts and in late-game situations, who they play when. There’s just so much of the job that we have no access to, and even the stuff we can see is difficult to parse in the same manner as the advanced analytics we’ve come to expect for players. There are no on/off numbers for coaches. A head coach creates an entire environment for a team and everything that occurs for a team occurs within that environment. A head coach is the old fish swimming by asking, “How’s the water?” and we’re all the fish asking, “What’s water?”

With that said, I’ve begun to doubt Rick Adelman. Continue Reading…

That the Lakers are the NBA’s most colossal, most fascinating bummer has been well-documented. In the past, they were un-lovable but majestic. You could hate Kobe’s post-dagger jawfaces, you could hate Phil Jackson’s finely tailored beard and bullying spiritualism, but you could also marvel at their success and be awed by the sight of basketball beautifully played.

Now, however, we’ve got the same sense of blithe, Californian entitlement, the same terrible fans, the same petulant Kobe (he’s the only player I can think of who could drop 14 assists as an act of contempt) only now without the beauty and without the winning. David Roth, writing at Vice, has the definitive account of their poisoned well of a season. He put it this way:

If a winning Lakers team evokes the smugness of a Magic of the Movies montage during an Oscars telecast, a losing one reflects a different and more forlorn LA—a million hideous publicist-planted upskirts and celebrity DUI mugshots and pill-powered Daniel Baldwin car chases, all narrated in the sneer-scream of a TMZ correspondent.

Not deliciously infuriating, then, just lonely and depressing. If the Lakers’ signature failing has been their caustic team culture, then a close second has been the awful, awful defense. Consider: their starting point guard is 38 years old and was, during his prime, among the league’s worst defenders; their two other veteran stars are playing the worst defense of their careers; their bench is populated by the Antawn Jamisons and Steve Blakes and Jodie Meekses of the world. Its easy to understand, then, just how badly the Lakers miss even a much-diminished Dwight Howard anchoring the middle.

Continue Reading…

The AP reports (via ESPN.com):

The Minnesota Timberwolves are trying hard to land Pau Gasol. If they have to part with the highest draft choice in franchise history after just one season, the Wolves appear ready to do it. That much became clear leading up to the NBA draft on Thursday night, when Minnesota offered Derrick Williams in hopes of landing the second pick from the Charlotte Bobcats to help get Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers, two people with knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press.

Teaming Gasol with Ricky Rubio has long been a dream of David Kahn’s–and evidently the Wolves are still looking to make a deal to land the big Spaniard. I have no doubt that a Gasol-Love frontcourt as coached by Rick Adelman is a nice idea. But I wonder: does giving up on the second pick in the draft in exchange for a 32-year-old star smack of impatience? After all how old, and how effective, will Gasol be when Rubio reaches his prime?

 

The NBA trade deadline has come and gone and the Wolves roster looks exactly the same as it did when we woke up this morning. The juiciest rumor had been a proposed three-team deal between the Lakers, Blazers and Wolves that would have sent Michael Beasley to L.A., Luke Ridnour to Portland (along with Steve Blake and LA’s first-rounder) and netted Jamal Crawford for the Wolves. But when we saw that the Lakers had used their picks to score Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill, we had to know that the deal had to be dead.

Now, there’s no question that it might have been nice to see the Wolves improve the roster or net a pick by moving Beasley rather than allowing him to become a restricted free-agent this summer. And it would also have been nice to land Crawford, upgrading their offensive production at the two-guard. But to my mind, the price of that deal was a little high. First of all, while Beasley alone for Crawford might not have a been an exactly equal deal for Portland, Beasley and Ridnour together seems a bit much. Ridnour has actually been a more efficient, though considerably lower-volume, scorer than Crawford over the past three seasons.  He’s also a much better passer and defender, even when giving up multiple inches at the two.

Given that the Wolves claim to be pursuing a playoff spot this season, a starting backcourt of J.J. Barea and Jamal Crawford seems to be conspicuously lacking in an actual playmaker, someone who can consistently serve the ball to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. And even if it was a Crawford/Rubio pairing the Wolves were ultimately after, Crawford has an opt-out clause in his contract for next season. In other words, the Wolves would have been trading their only healthy true point guard for a high-volume gunner who wasn’t even guaranteed to be around past July.  Seems like they lucked out to me.

Since there will be no basketball for the foreseeable future and I’d kind of forgotten how terrible and nervy I used to feel when the Wolves were in the playoffs, I thought it might be “fun” to reach back into Youtube’s dark ether and extract some of our past lives. Lets talk 2003. I’m living in New York, with little money to speak of and no cable, watching the Wolves in dark bars, drinking what many might consider to be “too much,” feeling sad a lot.

The Wolves are the fourth seed in the playoffs but as foul luck and the ridiculously stacked Western Conference would have it, the Lakers are the five.  After getting shelled at home in game 1, the Wolves come back to blow out the Lakers in game 2. Then, improbably, after blowing a five point lead with seconds to play and conceding an absurd four-point play to Kobe (David Stern actually apologized for that one) the Wolves manage to salvage game 3 in overtime (in LA no less!). And so game 4 was shaping up to be the decisive game of the series; either the Wolves would go up 3-1 with two more games to play in Minneapolis or the series would be tied 2-2. So I watched game four. And it was almost as nauseating as I remember it.

Continue Reading…

Lakers drown Wolves

Myles Brown —  November 20, 2010 — 1 Comment

photo from natural touch

Surely this is a tired angle, but it’s true nonetheless.

If there was ever promise to be shown in a 17 point loss, last night our Wolves managed to do so against the Lakers. Moral victories may not appear in the standings, but they do provide the necessary motivation to push through a rough schedule and Kurt Rambis’ postgame comments spoke to as much.

“Well obviously that wasn’t the result that we wanted, but I thought our guys did a really good job for a vast majority of the ball game. We stuck to our game plan, we got the shots that we wanted, we just couldn’t make shots. And they’re a team that can take your defense-your good defense-and make a shot that can turn your defense into nothing.”

This is unquestionably true. Los Angeles not only features the virtuoso Kobe Bryant, but a cavalcade of talented postmen and dead eye shooters who all maintain the savvy and selflessness to compensate for the occasional off night from a teammate. That’s exactly what happened on this particular evening. Despite a debatable shot selection from Kobe and one of the poorer outings I’ve seen from Pau Gasol since donning the purple and gold, the Lakers still coasted through this matchup thanks to the heady play of their bench, particularly Matt Barnes.

Continue Reading…

Use Your Illusion

Myles Brown —  November 10, 2010 — 4 Comments

photo by TWBA Design

Following a string of unfathomably humiliating losses, our Wolves played the two time defending champs down to the last minute in their own building. That should be encouraging.

But it’s not. It’ll only make things worse.

The cries from the uninformed and mercilessly unfunny will only grow louder after last night’s performance. Tired jokes will pour in, contextless stats will rain down and the truth will remain a stranger to the lot of us as the thoughtless credo becomes deafening.

Free Kevin Love.

The fact of the matter is that people like to make fun of this basketball team-specifically its management-at any given opportunity. And while we’ve certainly provided more than enough fodder for them, it must be made clear that this isn’t one of those times.

Last night Kevin Love became the only other Timberwolf besides Kevin Garnett to go for 20 points, 20 rebounds & 5 five assists with a magnificent 23,24 & 5 game that had the box score bursting at the seams. The problem is that everyone wants to treat him like Kevin Garnett, thus their concern with just one number, 38.

“See what happens when you give Love more minutes?!” goes the meme, with little regard for the point my partner just recently made (or the fact that Love is currently leading the team in minutes). The Wolves have hardly been suffering defeats, they’ve been binging on them, losing consecutive road games by 20, 32, 42 & 26 points. Should Kurt Rambis be more concerned with establishing some order amidst such chaos or placating his pseudo-star?

Yes, pseudo. One of the tougher assessments in this game is gauging the capabilities of a good player on a bad team. Are the stats a mirage or merely a preview of what he could do with better teammates? In the case of Kevin Love, I’d have to say, well….both.

Merely peering at Love’s box scores over coffee every morning would be enough to make you spit it out. “17.6 & 13.3 in only 28.4 minutes?! Good Lord, someone get this man a plane ticket out of there!” However, this seems to be the extent of such analysis. I have my doubts that many of those who have such fun mocking this team are actually watching it. For if they were, there’d also be an acknowledgment of Love’s shortcomings that lead to many of those trips to the bench.

Kevin is undersized, wide in the hips and not exactly fleet afoot. He has no lift, not much touch and is equally confounded in the post on both ends of the floor. He lacks defensive awareness and a reliable move with his back to the basket. Of course I’d be remiss to ignore his strengths; prodigious rebounding, impressive range and instinctive passing, however this is simply not enough to compensate for all the problems this unit has. The Wolves are playing the league’s fastest pace and are its most inefficient team. Surely there’s plenty of rebounds to be had, hence the league leading 46 per. But what is truly needed is a dependable scorer and true defensive presence. Kevin can’t provide that. He’s a complement, not a centerpiece.

Yet we’re still bombarded with the conventional wisdom that the best player on the team should be on the floor for 35 minutes per game.

Bullshit.

If anything, all of the starters should be playing more so that we wouldn’t be subjected to empty five headed monsters such as Maurice Ager, Corey Brewer, Lazar Hayward, Anthony Tolliver & Kosta Koufos. As my other partner, Zach Harper, recently noted on the twitters, there is little reason to empty the bench in these blowout losses when we’re the leagues youngest team and all of our players need the experience. If they’re down 20+ in the fourth quarter, leave them in there to play for pride and to develop some cohesiveness. After Jonny Flynn and Martell Webster heal from their injuries and work their way back into the lineup, a rotation should be solidified and perhaps that will mean more minutes for our core players. Including our best player.

The only thing Kevin Love needs to be freed from is the unrealistic expectations of those who care more for wisecracks than his best interest. Let’s just give this some more time.

(No pun intended. I think…)

Losing My Edge

Benjamin Polk —  June 17, 2010 — 4 Comments

Kobe Bryant is miserable. When the Lakers lose, he barely pretends to cover his disgust and frustration–with the shortcomings of less gifted and prescient teammates and with his own imperfections. When they win, the relief seems mild and fleeting, allowing him the brief luxury of  exhaustion rather than any kind of joy. When things go badly on the court, his face painfully contorts. When he hits a big shot, he juts out his jaw and narrows his eyes, just an icier version of the same angry contempt. Over at SLAM, our pal Myles recently gave what is, to me, the definitive capsule of the Kobe enigma: He is “a man who pretends not to give a [dang, or possibly whup] what you think while making it quite evident that he plays for your approval.” He is desperate to win and be vindicated, but that vindication brings him no happiness. He wants us to believe in his aura of magnanimous, carefree stylishness, but turns cold at any suggestion of his own vulnerability.

KG is a totally different animal. In recent years, as Zaza Pachulia, Big Baby Davis and Jose Calderon can attest, his well known respect for authority has verged on bullying. (We should never be surprised at the easy, slippery relationship between power and domination.) But as the playoffs have shown us, the other KG is still alive; the hyper ecstatic who bounds around the court like a child and bellows to the rafters, who seems close to exceeding the boundaries of his ridiculous body and becoming pure spirit. Who shares with Kobe a manic competitive fire but whose joys and pains are totally transparent.

Despite their vast differences, these two are conjoined in ways that go beyond even their four playoff meetings and their shared history as mid-’90’s teen prodigies. Both seem haunted by the Marlo Stanfield of the NBA, Rajon Rondo, the ruthless, unsmiling kid intent on usurping his elders. In so many ways, Rondo seems to represent all that these two are fast losing: the energized legs; the youthful arrogance; the brash forgetting of time and death.

Both Kobe and KG, in their different ways, also seem haunted by our absolutist culture of victory; I’m talking about the notion that a simple binary, winning and losing, is the only arbiter of a player’s, or a team’s, ultimate worth. That winning a title is the only measure of real success, that a player’s place in history can be deeply altered by the result of one insanely competitive series (for a typical example of this, check this Bill Simmons novella and note the way he manipulates his all-time player rankings based on this Finals’ possible outcomes).

To me, this account gets it wrong in two ways. First, it operates on the mistaken assumption–one that the Jordan era seems to have nurtured, if not created–that a team’s fortunes are entirely predicated on the ability of their star to “will them to victory”. We seem to believe that these great players operate in a vacuum. We seem to constantly forget how Jordan struggled until–aided by Phil Jackson–Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant came into their own. We forget Kobe’s epic frustrations that lasted precisely until Pau Gasol arrived in LA. And we forget the tragedy of Garnett’s futile Wolves years (well, we don’t forget; we remember that really, really well). The irony here is that, in all of these cases, these great players only reached their greatest heights after ceding some power, that their greatness was actually magnified in a genuine team setting.

The other huge problem with this way of thinking is the notion that one playoff loss can somehow nullify everything a team has already accomplished. Especially this year, with so many teams doing so many magnificent things, I find this view is kind of shameful. Throughout these playoffs, the Lakers’ ability to flow in and out of the triangle and use its nuances of player and ball movement to inflect their more traditional half-court sets has been totally inspiring (not to mention providing yet another object lesson in just how far the Wolves have to go, how many levels of knowledge and experience and skill separate them from these Lakers). And, especially until the Finals, Kobe has shown an unprecedented comfort with his teammates and his own role in the offense.  He moves the ball; he artfully finds open space on the floor; he allows his team’s passing and movement to create shots; its hard to imagine someone so good playing with such trust, confidence and presence.

As for Garnett and the Celtics, their miraculous playoff transfiguration has been well documented. In their victories over Miami, Cleveland and Orlando, Boston has operated at near-cosmic levels of group awareness and intensity. This originated in Rondo’s rise of course (and in the veteran’s ability to accept that rise), but also in Garnett’s defensive captaincy, his smothering of Antawn Jamison and Rashard Lewis, his ego-less offensive work, and his gritty reckoning with his own aging body. None of this–not the Lakers’ brilliance, nor Garnett and the Celtics’ fearsome run–could possibly be tainted by a Game-7 loss.

We paint with these broad, historical brushstrokes because its easier. Its less complicated to remember that Jordan is the greatest player ever because he won six titles than to remember that, for two games in 1996, the Sonics’ pressure defense totally flabbergasted the Bulls. Its easier to look back and imagine that the result of a series was predestined because of the star’s innate qualities than to remember the razor-thin moments, the minute tactical moves, the slight surges in energy and focus that turned the tide one way or the other.

What I’m saying is, lets not do that.  Lets try to appreciate Kobe Bryant not because he has won this many titles but because his fading 20-footer is an awesome sight to behold. Lets try to imagine that Kevin Garnett is amazing not because a Game 7 victory would somehow magically alter his position among the greatest players ever, but because watching him play defense is beautiful. And lets try to enjoy this game not because the result will forever alter the balance of basketball history, but because it will likely be ridiculously competitive and psychotically intense, filled with tiny flows and shifts, myriad nuances of strategy and style. The game is played by human beings, imperfect despite their immense gifts. If we forget that, we miss the entire thing.