The NBA season is fast-approaching as teams begin training camp in the coming days. For one last hurrah, a few NBA players hit the red carpet at Greystone Manor in West Hollywood for the launch of the video game NBA2K14.
The Western Conference’s Pacific division was well-represented at the event, where Pepper On Sports spoke with Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors), Nick Young (L.A. Lakers) and Ryan Hollins (L.A. Clippers).
We discussed the controversy-ridden NCAA, wacky injury stories, players one would want as a coach, and how the old Celtics crew will fare in Brooklyn.
Here are some highlights.
Does the NCAA needs an overhaul that would include compensation for athletes?
"I think there will be major changes. I flew under the radar in college so I’m pretty sure I didn’t make the NCAA too much money so I’m cool with them. But as far as, especially the case with Ed O’Bannon, he’s kind of the one who pioneered the whole thing. He did make the NCAA a whole lot of money and he didn’t quite reap the benefits and then he didn’t have that exciting of an NBA career afterwards, so you know, it’s very understandable. Guys who are legends in college, and kind of taken advantage of.”
Editor’s Note: Despite his modesty, Andre was a fantastic player in college and made the NCAA plenty of dough.
"I think [players] should get a little bit [of monetary compensation], but USC, no, we’re legit. We’re strictly by the book up there."
"I’d love to see it. It’s deserved. I think you’d have a chance to eliminate a couple of kids leaving early, a couple of kids from going out and doing silly stuff to make ends meat, and just bringing real honesty to the game. I was a scholarship athlete, my parents did okay, but I was broke in college. I didn’t make enough to get by, you know? You’re put in a very very tough situation so I’d love to see them you know at least get compensated enough to where these kids don’t want for much."
"Obviously you want a little spending money but just enough to cover your bills…simple necessities, you know?"
"I don’t think nothin’ can top being hit by a stripper. Nothin’ is topping that right now. That’s one of a kind."
Jason Kidd went directly from playing to coaching. If you had to choose one current NBA player to be your coach, who would you choose?
"Probably Andre Miller, just because he passes me the ball more than anyone [lauhgs]. I’m pretty sure he could teach someone how to pass the ball to me. No, but he’s a very smart basketball player and has a very high IQ and that’s why he’s been able to play so long at a high level and he’s going to be a very good coach once he gets the opportunity."
"He’s still competing though, giving guys problems night in and night out so I think he probably has three more years left in him."
"I’d probably have to say Jason Kidd…he’s like a coach, he’s been a coach out there on the court since he’s been playing."
How will your former Celtics teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce adjust to playing for Jason Kidd in Brooklyn?
"I think they’ll do great. After playing with those guys, I don’t want to say that they don’t need a coach, but if there was players that would fit in with Jason Kidd in his first year, the type of player that he is and now growing into a head coaching role, it’s a perfect cast to throw together."
On that note, I’m ready for some basketball!!!
The Los Angeles Lakers are considering an offer from the Orlando Magic that would send Dwight Howard to L.A. in exchange for Andrew Bynum, a source close to the situation tells PepperOnSports.com.
I know, I know. You’ve heard it all before. Here’s the fun part:
The source says the Lakers have informed one player that he might be part of the package deal and that he could be traded at any moment.
The Lakers are “very interested” in acquiring Howard, according to the source.
Depending on which hour you inquire about a Bynum-for-Howard swap dictates the type of news you’ll get regarding the topic, so your guess is as good as mine. But as of Thursday afternoon pacific time, the Lakers front office phones were blazing hot with Howard chatter.
Whether or not the trade happens, it sure is courteous of the Lakers to give players with trade-potential a heads up in hopes of making a tough transition smoother. Stay classy, L.A.
Follow me on twitter @Jackie_Pepper
Who could’ve seen this coming? Every resident Staples Center team has made it out of the first round of the playoffs, each team finding itself as the lower seed the rest of the way. It’s crazy but true as the Lakers, Clippers and Kings are all on a roll, the hockey team, shockingly, finding the most success in the post-season thus far. For now, we’ll set our sights on hoops as we take a look at the upcoming Western Conference Semifinals.
5. Los Angeles Clippers vs 1. San Antonio Spurs
From the cities they play in, to their rosters, to their playoff paths thus far, the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers couldn’t be more opposite.
The Spurs swept their first round series against the Utah Jazz while the Clippers needed all seven games to sneak past the Grizzlies.
An older San Antonio team is comprised of a veteran, championship-winning nucleus while the young squad from L.A. is made up of a youthful core and a collection of drifters with little NBA Finals experience.
On paper, the Clippers absolutely have the talent to beat the Spurs in a seven game series, but I don’t picture it happening in reality.
The Spurs come into this Western Conference Semifinals series healthy and as well-rested as they come after watching games from their couches for the past week. The Clippers, in comparison, will go from Memphis to San Antonio, beginning the series on one full day’s rest which doesn’t bode well for beat up stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
In the regular season, the Spurs took 2 of 3 from the Clipps with L.A.’s lone victory coming against a Tony Parker-less team. The two Spurs wins saw a fantastic duel of the league’s top point guards (sans Rajon Rondo, obviously) where Parker got the best Paul. When Parker was out with an injury for the final meeting between the teams, CP3 had his way with the Spurs, scoring 36 points and dropping 11 dimes. Parker will not allow Paul more than two great games in this series, MAXIMUM.
Clippers bigs De’Andre Jordan and Reggie Evans can absolutely challenge Tim Duncan in the post, but Jordan, especially, will need to produce offensively and do a much better job on the boards than he did against the Grizzlies.
As much as I enjoy watching the Clippers and would give anything to see a Staples Center Hallway Series in the Conference Finals, I don’t think the Clippers are ready to take down a team like the Spurs just yet. If Chauncey Billups were playing, I would likely think otherwise, but without his veteran savvy and Finals experience out on the floor, the Clippers might have a tough time in the maturity department.
Plus, the Spurs have one of the best coaches in the NBA in Greg Popovich who has seen and done it all, and is sure to out-coach Vinny Del Negro nearly every time out.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see adrenaline carry the Clippers to a Game 1 upset over a rested but rusty Spurs team in San Antonio, but at the end of the day, I’ll take Duncan, Parker and Ginobili in six games.
3. Los Angeles Lakers vs 2. Oklahoma City Thunder
What is not to love in this series? As basketball fans, all we can hope for is that the the postseason brings more drama than the regular season series between these two did, otherwise this one will be over in a hurry.
For starters, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and the Lakers bench need to play at a good 80 percent of their maximum efficiency if they want to have a snowball’s chance of beating the Thunder. If they step up each and every game, the Lakers can definitely win the series. They have too much championship experience and the one guy nobody else has… Kobe Bryant.
Then again, on paper, the Lakers backcourt is in big trouble. Kobe, Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake versus Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
It doesn’t seem like a fair fight, and it isn’t, which is why the Lakers will be in desperate need of strong performances from Bynum and Gasol down low. With Kendrick Perkins nursing a hip strain, L.A.’s bigs have a chance to exploit the Thunder in the paint if Serge Ibaka has to carry most of the load for OKC in the post. Ibaka had a monstrous regular season but the tandem of Bynum and Gasol could wear him down in a seven-game series if Perkins is sidelined, or playing at or below 50 percent.
While not impressive on the court this season, word out of OKC is that Derek Fisher has made an impact in the locker room and he can do even more than that in a playoff series against his former team. From helping a young team keep calm to divulging whatever secrets and information he can about the Lakers, the Thunder will be better for having Fisher on the roster in this series.
And then there’s Metta World Peace versus James Harden.
As if the Lakers learned nothing from the bulletin board material provided by Bynum opening his trap about close-out games being “easy,” Metta just couldn’t resist jumping into the trash-talk game head first.
Since his elbow made contact with Harden’s dome resulting in a seven-game suspension, Metta had to diss the concussed Thunder guard multiple times through twitter and in interviews, most recently saying he won’t be shaking hands with Harden anytime soon because he doesn’t “shake hands with subs.”
While technically speaking, Metta is accurate in the sense that typically, only the starters of each team shake hands right before tipoff, it’s not like Harden, the recently-named Sixth Man of the Year, is some fresh-legged, bench-warming scrub.
In watching the impact of World Peace in Game 7 against the Nuggets, it’s plain to see how effective he can be for the Lakers defensively, an area in which L.A. must play at the highest level to beat the offensively-firepowered Thunder.
We probably won’t see many one-on-one showdowns between these two, but the energy and animosity between World Peace and Harden will serve its purpose in sparking both teams and crowds to a level likely palpable through our television screens.
If both teams played to the best of their abilities, I think the Lakers have the edge because of championship experience, the skill and will of Kobe, and the presence of Bynum and Gasol down low. But nobody ever plays at 100 percent all of the time, so for that reason, I’m taking the Thunder, with hesitation, in seven games (maybe even six).
Nuggets at Lakers, Game 7
The Lakers need to get a grip. Now.
On one hand, I’m not worried because I’ve seen this sad act before. The last time the Lakers won an NBA title, the Houston Rockets took them to seven games in the first-round series, which was in no way indicative of what was to come in the rest of the playoffs.
We all know the Lakers are superior to the Nuggets, it’s just a matter of which team decides to show up Saturday for Game 7.
Will it be the Lakers team that had six players score in double figures? Or will it be the team in which a sickly Kobe Bryant carried nearly the whole load while two 7-footers were practically invisible?
Will LA continue to be stifled by a blistering Nuggets defense that left Pau Gasol with an empty stat sheet after going a pathetic 1-10 from the field in Game 6? Will Andrew Bynum continue to regress to middle school behavior by bragging without pause and sitting alone at the end of the bench like a boy whose lunch money got stolen?
If each team plays to its potential, there is no doubt that the Lakers will easily beat the Nuggets in Game 7. Denver is too inconsistent and too weak from long range to beat a team with players in the post such as Gasol and Bynum with Kobe waiting in the wings.
We will see what Gasol and Bynum are really made of Saturday as a Game 7 is the perfect opportunity to expose a player’s mental fortitude.
Look for an extra boost of energy from Metta World Peace who will return from a seven game suspension to emotionally inspire the Lakers to reach their physical potential on Saturday. As lovely a Cinderella story as Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Andre Miller and Corey Brewer have written, I think Denver’s glass slipper finally breaks come Saturday.
Clippers at Grizzlies, Game 7
This could very well be the end of the road for the Clippers. Sure, the 27-point comeback was incredible, as was jumping out to a 3-1 series lead, but L.A.’s injuries will likely do them in against the Grizzlies in Memphis on Sunday.
The last thing on the Grizzlie’s minds is the Game 1 loss to the Clippers after Memphis has not only beat L.A. twice in Staples Center, but has watched L.A’s two stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, break down over the course of the series and the Grizz smell blood in the water.
Without Paul and Griffin at a good 70% in terms of health, it will be awfully hard for the Clippers to beat this Grizzlies team - which many thought would be a wild card winner to come out of the West - in Memphis in a decisive Game 7.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph finally figured out how to work the Clippers in Game 6 and with help from Rudy Gay and Mike Conley, the Grizzlies had just enough to get the win in L.A.
The edge in Game 7 has to go to the Grizzlies because of the team’s playoff experience last year, the injuries ailing the Clippers two star players and of course, home court advantage.
Sleepy Spurs & Thunder?
The long layoff between the first round of the playoffs and the conference semi-finals can’t be long enough for the San Antonio Spurs, who are “old,” but perhaps not as old as you might think. The average age of a Spurs player is 27.29 years old, compared to the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose average age is 25.8.
Greg Popovich’s decision to rest some of the team’s older players like Tim Duncan is in part, what earned him NBA Coach of the Year honors as sitting the more “mature” men on the team for a game here and there certainly paid off in the long run.
The younger Thunder, whose stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 23 years old, might have a slightly tougher time adjusting to the long lay off, but I’m sure will be right back up to speed after one game, maximum.
In the short term, the long break between OKC’s first and second round series could cause some rust, but it will definitely be helpful in the long run as whichever team comes out of the West will have taken the much tougher road to the Finals.
Celtics & Heat In The East
Barring catastrophic injury (a la the Chicago Bulls) the Celtics and Heat should meet up for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown in a few weeks from now.
I give Paul Pierce one obligatory wheelchair ride and Ray Allen six missed periods with a bum ankle and still have the Celtics beating the 76ers for an eventual date with the Heat.
As much as I love the young-buck Pacers, they have no shot against Miami unless two of the Big Three go down with major injuries.
That said, does the old Big Three actually stand a chance against the young Big Three?
Ehhh…no. I could see the Celtics taking Miami to six games, but that’s probably as far as it goes. By the time the Conference Finals roll around, the Heat should be drooling for the sweet taste of revenge after last year’s embarrassing Finals loss and willing to pounce on whomever stands in their way of getting there.
With a weak Eastern Conference and a tough, tough road for whomever comes out of the West, this truly is the Heat’s year to win an NBA Championship. Again, barring injury, the Celtics CANNOT beat the Heat in a 7-game series. All that the team coming out of the West can hope for is that the guys in green put up one hell of a fight.
The stars came out for the LA Sports Fans Choice Awards on Tuesday night at the Luxe Hotel on Sunset Blvd. I partnered with the fellas at www.JerseyChaser.com on the Red Carpet as we talked to several of Magic Johnson’s former teammates about the 20th anniversary of “the announcement” that the Lakers superstar was HIV positive. Click above to watch our exclusive interview with NBA legends as they talk the about their love for Magic and reflect on the sadness of November 7, 1991.
Make sure to check out JerseyChaser.com for breaking news and the hilarity that sports inadvertently provides.
With the NBA Trade deadline rapidly approaching (March 15), the rumor mill is working spinning into overdrive. Writers are providing daily updates consisting of “inside information,” while players continue to claim they are ignoring the “reports,” and bloggers are making up fun, fantasy-like scenarios, Monopoly money-style.
For the guys who are affected by trades in real life (aka the players), this deadline looms over everyone from the franchise players to the last man on the bench. For the rest of us (whose living arrangements and careers aren’t affected), the trade deadline is a time to play G.M. and ponder all sorts of possibilities, rooted in either fact or fable. Whether your trade ideas have any truth or validity behind them doesn’t much matter as everyone and their Mamas have the right to take a guess and hope for the best come March 15.
Listed below is a compilation of “actual” rumors (which is kind of an oxymoron, but you get the point) as well as random ideas floating through the interwebs and sports bar conversation pieces. Without further ado, lets indulge in a few trade delights de jour:
Trades That Could Happen:
• Dwight Howard to any team that is willing to give away more than they should to rent the All-Star center for the rest of the season only.
• Pau Gasol to Houston for Kyle Lowrie and Luis Scola
• Baron Davis to LA Lakers for Devin Ebanks
• Elton Brand do anyone who will take his salary off the 76ers hands
Trades That Should Happen, But Won’t:
• Pau Gasol & Andrew Goudelock to Orlando for Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis
• Jamal Crawford and Kurt Thomas to Chicago for Kyle Korver Omer Asik
• Gilbert Arenas (Free Agent) to Oklahoma City as Russell Westbrook’s backup
• Metta World Peace and Devin Ebanks to Toronto for Jerryd Bayless
• Zaza Pachulia to the Celtics…somehow, some way, they could use him
Rumors & Random Trade/Free Agent Ideas:
• Ray Allen to Chicago for Ronnie Brewer and Richard Hamilton
• Ray Allen to LA Clippers for Eric Bledsoe, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes and a second-round draft pick
• Steve Nash and Josh Childress to LA Lakers for Pau Gasol and a first-round draft pick
"…coach is a stats guy. His background is video coordinator or whatever. So he’s all stats. But Ron Artest is all feel. He doesn’t understand that." - Metta World Peace on Mike Brown
Shots. Fired. Ron Ron the Rottweiler is BACK!
Watching the final minute of the Lakers game against the Raptors this afternoon, my inner-monologue read, “even if the Lakers pull this one out, they can’t be happy with this win. They need to either make some personnel moves or do some serious soul searching.”
If you didn’t see the game, the Lakers had an 18-point lead over the Raptors in the first quarter of Sunday’s game in Toronto. LA was shooting 70 percent from the field and eight Lakers scored early. Everything was going right, but it slipped away shortly after as the Raptors chipped away until they grabbed their first lead of the game in the final two minutes as the Lakers needed a signature Kobe game-winner with 4.2 seconds left to escape the Air Canada Center with a 94-92 victory, if one can even call it a victory. Toronto was the Lakers’ last stop on a six-game road trip in which LA went 3-3.
I knew a game that ugly would lead to some sort of fall out, but I had no idea it would be public or that it would consist of Metta World Peace blasting head coach Mike Brown.
The forward formerly known as Ron Artest is a reporter’s dream in the sense that he is spontaneous to the point of dropping a gem of a quotation that can give you a story all on its own during a slow day. You never know what you’re going to get from World Peace, which is both good and bad I suppose.
I have blogged several times about the fact that I think a lot of the Lakers problems stem from the fact that most of the players seem to lack an understanding of whatever offensive system Brown - in his first season with LA - is trying to implement. Kobe Bryant and Steve Blake appeared to be the guys holding the offense together and when Blake went down with an injury, it all seemed to fall apart .
That said, World Peace really let his coach have it after the Raptors game. The following quotes are from CBSSports.com:
"I’m trying to win. And right now, coach is a stats guy. His background is video coordinator or whatever. So he’s all stats. But Ron Artest is all feel. He doesn’t understand that. Having me in (Thursday night’s Celtics) game at the end, he was worried about me shooting bad from the free throw line. And I was like, ‘I could care less because I’m gonna get a stop at the end of the game.’ He didn’t understand the rhythm that we had—me, Fish (Derek Fisher), Kobe (Bryant), Pau (Gasol) and Drew (Andrew Bynum). I’ve been through games where I would have two points, go 1 for 9 and we’d win. That’s what matters. Stats are for people who need stats."
WOW (By the way, there’s more…hang tight). Despite being totally unfair, the video coordinator line is classic. Sure, Brown began his career as an intern with the Nuggets before becoming Denver’s scout and video coordinator, but he did play four years of college basketball at Mesa Community College and the University of San Diego. We all have to start somewhere, right?
World Peace is understandably upset given the fact that the Lakers are struggling to stay in the top eight out west (they are currently sixth in the Western Conference with a 16-12 record, 5.5 games out of first place) and he is underperforming on a personal level, to say the least.
In his 12th NBA season, World Peace is averaging just over 22 minutes per game (33.8 min. is his career average) of offensively unproductive basketball in which he is shooting 31 percent from the field (and 16.4 percent from 3-point range) for a dismal 4.6 points per game along with 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists. World Peace’s numbers are down in every single category this season and his defense has been nothing to write home about either.
The fun didn’t stop with the comments above though. World Peace took his insults to the next level by dragging his former coach, the great Phil Jackson, into the mix. More from CBSSports.com:
"If I could count how many times another team went away from the best player when I was on him, I’ve got to be like No. 1 in the league. That’s not a stat, and coach doesn’t … you would have to play basketball to feel that. When Phil Jackson was here, that’s why I was in the game, because he understands that. Philly and Utah, I was on the bench because of stats. … I think he just has to get a better feel of the players."
I think World Peace is in need of a Zen Master, no matter what his or her name is. Perhaps World Peace needs to make a phone appointment with his psychiatrist because he let his emotions get the best of him today. While I appreciate his honesty, I can’t imagine this incident will help the Lakers as a team.
Most of the criticism Brown faced after accepting the job in LA was in regards to how he would be able to manage Kobe and the rest of an eclectic Lakers roster. Reports out of Cleveland painted a picture of LeBron James running the Cavaliers leaving other players resentful of James’ power and Brown’s lack of control over the team. This incident might prove to be Brown’s first real test as the Lakers head coach. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he handles the situation moving forward. Lord knows the flight from Toronto to LA is long enough to talk this one out over a drink and a few card games.
Tonight’s Lakers vs. Celtics game reminded me of college when I used to go watch a group of my guy friends play intramural flag football. My girlfriends and I would cheer them on and sometimes go as far as making corny little signs, just to be supportive and make them feel good. Most of these guys were athletes whose careers ended with a high school diploma while their competitive spirit long outlasted their physical ability. I would always chuckle as the guys took flag football SO seriously, celebrating a good play like they won the Super Bowl and becoming furious with the smallest of failures. Although way past their athletic prime, my buddies loved to compete and played every game like it meant the world to them.
That’s how tonight’s Lakers vs. Celtics game felt to me. It was such a fun game and between the playoff-like atmosphere in the TD Garden and the close finish, the contest provided more than sufficient entertainment. At the same time, it made me sad to see two teams, once powerhouses, just shells of their former selves.
In 53 minutes of play, neither team made it to 90 points, both shooting around 39 percent from the field. 39 percent. Yikes. When the Lakers and Celtics were playing for titles in the latter part of the decade, each team had a strong presence down low (Perkins, Gasol and Bynum) and solid bench players; role players who were reliable and knew how to help their team.
If the Celtics can make it to the NBA Finals with Jermaine O’Neal starting at center without a legitimate backup, I’d be speechless…for once. Ever. Greg Stiemsa has potential, but he isn’t good enough right now and I don’t see Leon Powe walking through that door anytime soon. The Lakers outscored the Celtics in the paint 46-38 which isn’t that impressive considering LA has such a huge size advantage over Boston.
Three of the five bench players who played for the Celtics contributed 19 of Boston’s 87 total points, a near mirror-image of the Lakers bench which was responsible for 18 points between three of the four guys who played. Most of LA’s bench points came late as the non-starters were practically invisible through the majority of the game.
There were some positives though. Just like the good old days, it came down to Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce laying it all out on the line; no guts, no glory. The Celtics captain played 48 minutes in which he scored 18 points, grabbed nine boards and logged seven assists, not to mention sinking a gorgeous jumper to give Boston a 1-point lead with under two minutes to play in overtime. But it wasn’t enough.
Ray Allen, dropping 22 points and giving us a classic old school 1-on-1 defensive battle with Kobe - holding him to 27 points, well under his 30 points per game average - wasn’t enough either. Kevin Garnett, once the heart and soul of the Celtics (and perhaps he still is in certain ways) had a miserable shooting night, going 6-23 and missing his last nine consecutive shots.
The Lakers and Celtics are two of the oldest teams in the NBA so 17 fast break points for Boston (LA scored only six) is one positive to take away from a loss like this. On the other hand, the free throw opportunities were heavily skewed in LA’s favor, as the Celtics were called for 21 personal fouls to the Lakers’ 12.
Kobe, a master of drawing fouls, among other things, was superb in the second half, demoralizing Boston with plays like the one in the third quarter when he patiently waited down low, eventually spinning around three defenders for the bucket, followed by a shot right over Allen, who did as much as he could to prevent it.
Pau Gasol, who has been in a funk since last season finally played the way he has for so many years, picking the right spots, rebounding, tipping and shooting his way to 25 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks, all on the same day as he was left off of the NBA All-Star roster.
Also with something to prove (and hoping to avoid being traded) is Andrew Bynum who scored 16 points, blocked three shots and more importantly, hauled in 17 boards as he and Gasol combined for 31 rebounds. Gasol and Bynum were responsible for critical blocks and deflections, Gasol winning the game for the Lakers as he blocked Ray Allen’s layup attempt as time expired in the extra period.
Interestingly, the Lakers are unmatched down low with Bynum and Gasol yet have been unable to find a way to get them the ball which has been a source of the team’s struggles. It wasn’t pretty, but tonight, they figured it out.
I’m convinced Steve Blake is the key to the Lakers success. Before he injured his ribs a few weeks ago, the Lakers point guard was playing the best basketball of his professional career. Blake and Bryant seemed to be the only two Lakers who truly understood Mike Brown’s system (and Blake was actually hitting shots too) so when he went down, it looked like the glue holding the Lakers together had evaporated. With Blake (not including tonight), the Lakers were 8-4. Without him, the team found itself in deep trouble going 6-7. While Blake was beyond rusty tonight, he helped his team get the job done down the stretch.
As badly as we want this rivalry to be what it once was a few years ago, or what it has been at different points over the past several decades, it just doesn’t feel the same. The competition is still there, but the level of play is not.
Remember when Rondo and Bynum represented the future? Now they are the present, which means some of the best players in hoops history will soon be a thing of the past.
The fact that these two teams were so cordial to each other on the court, conversing, helping each other up when someone hit the deck… perhaps that is their way of acknowledging that they aren’t what, or who they once were; That they appreciated all of those ugly hard-fought battles and wish so badly to go back to that place in time.
Whether it’s in the regular season or the playoffs, an all-star game or a charity game, or even a flag football game, we can always count on the fiercest form of competition between these two teams; the kind that will forever be worth cheering for.
After the lockout ended, remember how exciting basketball was in the first few days of the NBA season? Christmas day felt like the playoffs between the Knicks two-point win over the Celtics and the Bulls’ come-from-behind victory over the Lakers by a single point in L.A. as both games were intense and entertaining. Heading into the season without a lengthy training camp, I anticipated ugly, discombobulated basketball but instead was pleasantly surprised as we were treated to some fantastic games.
Four weeks into the condensed 66-game NBA season, the enthusiasm seems to have worn off a bit and the rust is showing as many of the league’s teams are struggling to find consistency. Teams are having issues with chemistry, several key players have sustained injuries and every team is playing at least one stretch of three games in three nights as well as four games in five, and even five games in six nights. That’s a lot of games, and not a lot of quality practice time.
Logically, we want to attribute things like injury, sloppy play, lack of understanding of a coach’s scheme, etc. to the fact that teams are playing much more often than during a full, 82-game regular season therefor they must be tired, hurt and practice-deprived.
I crunched some numbers and noticed that our conspiracy theories surrounding the shortened season could be off the mark. Lets take the Lakers, for example. Last season, the Lakers played 82 regular season games in 170 days over approximately 24.3 weeks. If you break those numbers down, the Lakers played 3.37 games per week last season. This year, the Lakers will play 66 games in 124 days over 17.7 weeks, thus playing 3.72 games per week. That’s only about one third of a game more per week than last season. I’m no statistician (although I took social statistics in college… it was dreadful) but I don’t think that figure is of any true significance.
Basically, the number of games being played in this shortened time frame is proportional to the number of games played over a full-length season last year.
There is a learning curve every season, especially through the first 20-30 games. It usually takes teams a while to get their ducks in a row even when they have a full-length training camp and preseason.
Here’s where it gets tricky. What about all of the back-to-back games? Many have suggested that the back-to-back sets, and especially the back-to-back-to-back games would give younger teams an advantage because their youthful bodies can bounce back quicker than the veteran players.
Guess what? Age doesn’t seem to be a big factor when it comes to back-to-back games, at least not yet.
Take a look at the five oldest teams in the league (Dallas being the eldest) and their records when it comes to wins and losses on zero days rest:
Now lets look at how the five youngest teams in the league (Minnesota being the youngest) fared on zero days rest:
Again, I’m no math major but it doesn’t appear as though we can draw any correlation between age and wins/losses of games played on consecutive days. Because it’s still early in this season, this could change down the road, but as of now, those young, fresh legs aren’t making much of a difference as wisdom and experience has proved tough as well.
What role could back-to-back games play over the duration of the season? I’ll let you be the judge.
I looked at the schedules of four teams and compared them to last year in terms of how many times they played on consecutive nights (back-to-backs). Below are the number of times the Clippers, Celtics, Lakers and Mavericks played on consecutive days/nights.
Clippers 23 20
Celtics 19 19
Lakers 15 19
Mavericks 17 20
While the Celtics are playing exactly the same number of back-to-backs as last season, the other three teams are in a different boat. The Lakers and Mavs will both play more back-to-backs this season with LA playing 26 percent more back-to-backs than last year and 18 percent more for Dallas. Meanwhile the Clippers are playing 13 percent fewer back-to-back games than they played last season. Lucky them!
This tidbit does seem significant. It looks like the Lakers got lucky last season, as 15 back-to-backs is quite different from the Clippers down the hall who played 23 such sets. Playing 26 percent more back-to-backs than in the previous year has to hurt, especially as the Lakers are the second oldest team in the NBA. I would think it will catch up to them eventually, well, everyone but Kobe that is (unless his wrist actually falls off at some point), and I guess time will tell.
I wonder if travel might be more of an issue than playing on consecutive nights, especially because plenty of the back-to-back scenarios involve travel. Only eight teams have road records of .500 or better. That’s pretty pathetic.
At the end of the day, I think true talent will win out despite age, long flights, late nights and little rest between games. As mentioned above, the condensed schedule isn’t really much tighter than a normal schedule. Look at the league’s top two teams. The Bulls are the 19th oldest team in the league, they are 12-3 overall (7-3 on the road) Derrick Rose is injured and they are 6-2 on zero days rest. Conversely we have one of the league’s youngest teams in the Thunder who are also riding high at 12-3 overall (6-2 on the road) and 5-1 on zero days rest. Both teams follow the trend that at this point in the season, age isn’t much of a factor and that back-to-back games haven’t proved detrimental just yet. With more than two thirds of the season left to play, we have plenty of time to dissect and diagnose the failures of struggling teams.
Ahhh, the life of a celebrity in L.A. Cindy Crawford and Alex Rodriguez were shown chatting courtside at the Lakers game against the Rockets at Staples Center on Tuesday night. Don’t bother starting any rumors as the supermodel’s husband, Rande Gerber was sitting next to his wife, also talking with A-Rod.
It looks like Crawford, Gerber and the Yankees third baseman genuinely enjoy each others’ company as the threesome was spotted vacationing alongside George Clooney and girlfriend Stacy Keibler on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico just a few days ago.
I wonder what they were talking about courtside? Probably not the game.
Kobe Bryant Passes To Himself Off The Backboard, Hits The Jumper … Lakers vs. Rockets
Before the Celtics’ first victory of the season on Friday night, there was plenty of panic running up and down Causeway Street as Boston began the season with an 0-3 slump. Meanwhile a familiar foe was going through a similar situation out west as the Lakers lost their first two games of the season causing folks to practically crown the Clippers as the new kings of Los Angeles hoops.
Both Celtics and Lakers were missing a star player, not to mention a number of other factors contributing to their slow starts, so working with a sample size of less than five games, is it really fair to freak out just yet?
Yes and no.
No, because when you are missing a team captain in one case, and a starting center in another, the expectations should be lowered substantially. Yes, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said there would be no excuses for his team to start slow; losing Jeff Green to heart surgery right before the season, team captain Paul Pierce out with a bruised right heel… neither was an acceptable excuse for failure according to Rivers. Obviously, a coach can’t tell his or her team, “hey listen, we’re missing some key parts, so if we suck, well, no big deal. Nobody expects us to win anyway,” but losing to the Knicks, Heat and Hornets all within four days on the road shouldn’t really come as a shock.
The Knicks looked good in the opener, the Heat were forced to fend off a furious Celtics comeback and the Hornets have some great young talent thanks to the Chris Paul trade so I don’t think there is much shame in this particular 0-3 start.
Here’s where Celtics fans have the right to worry. Jermaine O’Neal is your starting center. Yikes. The big man finally got his act together dropping 19 points on the winless Pistons in Boston’s 96-85 victory over Detroit on Friday, but one good game doesn’t give me much confidence. In his 15th NBA season, O’Neal (who missed much of last season with injuries) only scored eight points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in the Celtics’ first three games combined. The guy is 6’11, c’mon! O’Neal’s backups are Chris Wilcox (who has missed two games with a bruised shoulder) and rookie Greg Stiemsma.
The good news is that Stiemsma, last year’s D-League Defensive Player Of The Year has a lot of potential. The 26-year-old was a standout in an otherwise awful game against the Hornets, with 6 blocks in about 20 minutes in his NBA debut. I heard good ol’ Tommy Heinsohn compliment Stiemsma a few times during the Celtics broadcast of the Pistons game during the rookie’s 16 minutes which comprised of 2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, one block, one steal and four fouls. While the stats seem small, Stiemsma’s presence was felt in a big way, which will only improve with time.
More good news/bad news …. Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett might be on the verge of dinosaur age by NBA standards, they all still have “it.” They are still fierce competitors with the physical abilities to win on a nightly basis. The shortened season is a double-edged sword for an older team as they benefit from playing fewer games overall, yet suffer a disadvantage of little rest between games. As a true master of this team, Rivers knows these cats well enough to pick the right games to rest each guy when they need it.
Then there’s Rajon Rondo getting ready to hit his prime, not to mention that trade rumor chip on his shoulder that will keep him intent on his proving his worth to Danny Ainge and anyone else who dares to doubt him.
Guards Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling will be nice role players for Boston as will forwards Brandon Bass and Sasha Pavlovic. But as with most things in life, it all comes back to the middle, or the center. Will the trio of O’Neal, Wilcox and Stiemsma be strong enough to fend off the likes of Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, Al Horford, and the entire Miami Heat throughout the whole, albeit shortened regular season? Can the Celtics rotation of Bigs truly compete with the size, strength, skill and experience of the top teams in the East at the 5 position? Time will tell, but I won’t get my hopes up.
Then there’s the defense. Losing a defensive mind Tom Thibodeau is a big deal and it showed last season. The defense is what made this team dangerous over the last few years. It is one thing to ask older players to produce offensively but it’s another to expect them to play as tenaciously on the other end of the floor. I think the younger players should do whatever they can defensively to compensate for what the Big 3 might lack at that end.
If the Celtics can find a way to stay rested and maximize the play of their big men, I think they’ll get back on track and be a legitimate factor in the East.
As for the Celtics loathed rival, I would start with expressing concern over Kobe Bryant’s health, but after doing so over the last few years of bad knees, jacked up pinkies and whatever else, I have finally learned to accept the fact that injuries rarely hamper Bryant. He says his surgically repaired right knee is “as close to 100% as it’s going to get” after an offseason procedure in Germany, and despite a torn ligament in his right wrist, Bryant is shooting a career-best 48.1% from the field. True, the Lakers have only played four games this season, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Barring catastrophic injury, I expect Bryant to kick it up a notch on the heels of what many perceived was a “down year” for him on the court. Kobe has been less concerned with offense though as he says defense will be the bread and butter for this Lakers team. Even in L.A.’s losses to the Bulls and Kings, the team played stifling defense in stretches, but not consistently. That changed in the Lakers last two games against the Jazz and Knicks as the team really picked up its pick and roll defense and held both teams to under 33% shooting. If the Lakers can play the defense that Mike Brown and his staff have implemented on a consistent basis, their offense will come easily via the fastbreak, turnovers, and defensive rebounds.
Defensive rebounding shouldn’t be an issue for the Lakers with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol hanging out under the hoop. If Bynum can keep his head screwed on straight, the Lakers won’t need Dwight Howard this season. Every year, Bynum is proclaimed as the “key” to the season by coaches, teammates and the media. While he has showed flashes of brilliance, a combination of injuries and mental/emotional weakness has derailed what should be an all-star career going into his sixth NBA season.
I ran into Bynum at one of L.A.’s toughest workout spots over the summer and he looked fantastic, perhaps in the best physical shape of his NBA career. If he can stay disciplined and even-tempered, playing alongside Gasol will give the Lakers a lot to work with. As for Pau, remember how he got hammered after the Lakers lost to the Celtics in the finals back in 2008? “He’s soft,” “he sucks,” etc.? How did Gasol rebound from that criticism? He kicked ass and led the Lakers to back-to-back NBA titles. Gasol is now facing the same situation, and thus far, has responded accordingly. He has to prove himself once again and Gasol is already playing with a fire he lacked last season.
Now to Lamar Odom. Without bringing in an all-star player, Odom can only be replaced by committee which is what the Lakers are looking to do. Josh McRoberts and Devin Ebanks have both played surprisingly well thus far at the 3 and 4 and will do so with less pressure once Bynum returns from a four-game suspension today against the Nuggets. New addition Jason Kapono has made the most of his little playing time behind Kobe, and Steve Blake is not only facilitating but actually hitting his shots this season! Who knew?
The X-factor here is none other than Metta World Peace. Fitting, right? The artist formally known as Ron looked HORRENDOUS in the Lakers preseason games and regular season opener, in fact, I half-joked that he might get cut before the season started. He was slow, couldn’t run, certainly couldn’t jump and was unable to make a basket if you stood on the baseline waving cash in front of his face.
But with a new name (‘Metta,’ a Buddhist term meaning loving kindness) and a new outlook on life also comes a new job on the court. World Peace is filling Odom’s old shoes as the anchor of the Lakers second unit and is actually scoring points in doing so, 12.4ppg to be exact. While the 2004 Defensive Player Of The Year is known for what he does without the ball, the Lakers need him to produce offensively as well. Like Odom in years past, I think putting World Peace in the “bench leader” niche will give him just enough responsibility to feel accountable and important without the pressure and lofty expectations that come with being a starter.
With so many new and inexperienced players on the roster, not to mention a new head coach as well as overhauled systems both offensively and defensively, there will definitely be a learning curve for this Lakers team. Having said that, this specific group of guys (a few stars and several role players) reminds me of the kind of roster the Lakers had back in the Phil Jackson 3-peat days. The real concerns for the Lakers are heath (as it is with every team), consistency and just how big the learning curve might be in this truncated season.
It’s going to be a rough few weeks for Sarah Palin.
First, unflattering details from a new book by Levi Johnston (the little bugger who knocked up her daughter Bristol) began leaking about 24 hours ago. Johnston’s tell all comes out on September 20, coincidentally, the same day as a biography about the former vice presidential candidate that claims Palin had a one-night stand with former NBA player Glen Rice. Yes, GLEN RICE.
Oh. My. Goodness.
Of course, the one and only National Enquirer broke this story. Hey, they got it right with John Edwards, among other huge stories, so who am I to judge? Here are some details from the book, written by Joe McGinnis, care of the Enquirer.
McGinnis claims Sarah had a steamy interracial hookup with basketball stud Glen Rice less than a year before she eloped with her husband Todd.
Sarah hooked up with the NBA great, then a 6-foot-8 junior at the University of Michigan when he was playing in a college basketball tournament in Alaska in 1987, the book says. At the time, Sarah, just out of college, was working as a sports reporter for the Anchorage TV station KTUU.
The article, which I have linked to below, claims not only that Rice confirmed this unforgettable evening, but that Sarah and Todd were indeed a couple at the time. If you ask me, it’s not a huge deal considering they were basically kids back then. But here’s where it gets a bit sticky.
A publishing source told The ENQUIRER that McGinniss claims Sarah had a “fetish” for black men at the time and he quotes a friend as saying Sarah had “hauled (Rice’s) ass down.”
Can of worms: Opened. Reading this article, I kept hearing Keith Jackson in my head yelling, "WHOOOAAA NELLLIE!!!!"
My favorite memory of Rice (which I’m sure is quite different from Sarah’s) is when he dropped 28 points on the Sonics in a ridiculously exciting Lakers overtime win in Seattle back in 2000. Now when I hear the name Glen Rice, my mind will wander elsewhere. ::sigh::
While this bit of salacious news probably won’t help Palin should she decide to run for president in 2012, it certainly does qualify her for the next best thing: a starring role on Basketball Wives.
Check out Sportscaster Sarah from back in the day… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hc7LBtRGCd8