Posted on: March 29, 2011 12:35 am
NEW YORK – Hours before the game, after the Knicks’ first home shootaround of the season, Carmelo Anthony called it “almost a must-win game.” When it was over – the game, and the Knicks’ six-game losing streak – Melo took the liberty of upgrading it to “definitely a must-win.”
Forgive him that bit of revisionist history, since most of Anthony’s first month as a full-time resident of New York since he was 8 years old has been a nightmare.
“Tonight was the starting point for us,” said Anthony, who scored at will to the tune of 39 points – 33 in the second half and overtime – in the Knicks’ bizarre 113-106 victory over Orlando. “We got that monkey off our backs.”
The Knicks didn’t solve the world’s problems, or even figure out how to get consistent offense from both Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire in a game they won. They did find out that with supreme effort and intensity, they can defend well enough to win even without personnel built for, you know, defending. And they learned that as cruel as the basketball gods can become, they can be just as charitable.
“We showed that when we play with energy, we play with intensity, and we just play hard, a lot of things fall into place for us,” Anthony said.
And so the most compelling train wreck of the NBA season north of South Beach is over. Move along; nothing more to see here.
It took Orlando being without starting point guard Jameer Nelson and reserves Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon (who left the game with a jammed finger) for the Knicks’ chemistry experiment gone awry to snap a skid in which they had lost nine of 10. (Orlando, of course, also was without J.J. Redick, who missed his ninth straight game with an abdominal injury.) It took Gilbert Arenas to shoot a miserable 2-for-11, including 1-for-7 from 3-point range. It took Dwight Howard missing the final 1:17 of OT after recording his sixth personal foul of the night and 17th technical foul of the season – putting him one tech away from a second one-game suspension with eight games left in the regular season.
And finally, it took Jason Richardson’s offensive foul for tripping Anthony, waving off what would’ve been a tying 3-pointer by Hedo Turkoglu with 51 seconds left and the Knicks leading 109-106. This after Anthony had first tripped Richardson after the two had scrapped for a loose ball.
“That’s what happens in life, man,” Anthony said. “The second guy always gets caught.”
At least Melo was honest about that one. A significant weight lifted from his shoulders, he finally could smile again Monday night.
“I’ve seen him score 40 and 50 points before, clutch baskets and all that,” Chauncey Billups said. “But I just think that he was so locked in. The kid was rebounding, he was all over the place – grabbing extra rebounds, doing extra effort plays, steals, blocked shots. You know that he wanted to win this game.”
Before Anthony and the Knicks could win it, of course, they had to almost lose it. And the end of regulation was a near catastrophe that would’ve sent the panic meter to new heights.
Out of a timeout with 10.2 seconds left in regulation and the Knicks leading 100-97, coach Mike D’Antoni opted – as he always does – to defend Orlando’s search for a 3-point shot rather than foul. Some coaches are dead-set against fouling in that situation, while others believe that’s the only way to play it. This time, the Knicks got burned when Richardson drilled a tying 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left.
“I played with him,” Stoudemire said of his former Suns teammate. “He makes shots like that all the time.”
With the pressure building to win a game with his newly assembled All-Star duo, D’Antoni didn’t show it on the sideline as the Knicks prepared to inbound the ball for their final trip of regulation. As the Knicks were assuming their spots on the floor, D’Antoni was engaged in what looked like a good-natured and spirited debate with several fans behind the bench – presumably over why he didn’t opt to foul.
“It’s kind of a tricky situation,” Richardson said. “If I was a coach, I wouldn’t do it, either.”
On the Knicks’ final possession of regulation, the ball went to Anthony – as it did nearly every trip after he checked into a tie game (80-80) with 8:49 left in the fourth. He drove the lane, got up in the air and had to double-clutch. Realizing he had to clear shot at the rim, he said he deliberately tossed the ball off the backboard to himself – but missed the putback at the buzzer.
“I should’ve thrown it on the other side (of the rim),” Anthony said. “There was nobody there.”
Then came overtime, and the Howard foul and tech, and the curious case of J-Rich getting caught for doing what Melo had done to him – costing Orlando Turkoglu’s tying trey. But if you were expecting Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to have his usual fun with the league’s officiating and disciplinary system, you would’ve been disappointed. Asked three officiating-related questions in his postgame media session, Van Gundy each time responded with dead silence. Commissioner David Stern, who’d promised we wouldn’t be hearing from Van Gundy anymore on such issues, was right.
And for one night, so were the Knicks.
“They played really hungry,” Richardson said. “They dove, they hustled. It was a must-win for them. You lose six in a row, you start getting hungry. You start feeling that starvation kicking in.”
Making the Knicks’ first victorious post-game meal in nearly two weeks a must-eat.
Posted on: March 28, 2011 1:25 pm
NEW YORK -- The basketball microscope in New York is focused squarely on the Knicks, who stumble into their second game in six days against Orlando Monday night on a six-game losing streak and in full-blown crisis mode as they try to adjust to the franchise-shaping trade for Carmelo Anthony.
But what of their opponent? The Magic, a perennial championship contender in each of Stan Van Gundy's four seasons as coach, are having an identity crisis of their own. Three months after a pair of similarly impactful trades, Orlando is still trying to relocate its bread and butter.
After sending Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus to Phoenix and Rashard Lewis to Washington in December, the Magic are still top 10 in the league in the major defensive categories -- points allowed (fifth), opponent field-goal percentage (fourth), and opponent three-point percentage (eighth). They remain mired in an astonishing trend at the other end of the floor, averaging 15.5 turnovers per game. During that stretch, the Magic have beaten the Heat but lost to the Lakers, Bulls, and even the Warriors.
What Orlando's identity will be come playoff time remains a mystery to Van Gundy -- and, to some extent, to the other person who should be creating the identity. Dwight Howard came into the season vowing to stop having so much fun and start getting serious, but that promise is up in the air -- especially since his aggressiveness has been taken away since receiving his 16th technical foul March 4 against Chicago.
"Same guy," Howard said recently when asked if he's changed since the one-game suspension he received automatically for the 16th tech. "I get upset about the way guys foul me. But it's not about the way things are called. Somebody fouls and after the foul they continue to foul me, and I get upset at the refs because they allow that. My teammates are trying to do a better job of coming and consoling me so I don’t say anything else."
Van Gundy, too, is trying to do a better job of filtering his opinions since being blasted by commissioner David Stern over a rant in which Van Gundy likened Stern to an evil dictator when asked to plead his case that Howard shouldn't have been suspended. All this means that the two most important figures in Orlando's push to get back to the NBA Finals, Howard and Van Gundy, have been muzzled -- Van Gundy off the court and Howard on it.
"I'm not a dirty player. I'm not a dirty person," Howard said. "I would never try to hurt anybody on the court. That's not who I am. That's not how I play."
How the Magic will play when the playoffs roll around remains a mystery. With Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkolgu all fixtures in Van Gundy's rotation, it's little wonder the Magic are a worse defensive team than they were before the trades. That was expected. But without backup from Gortat, Howard is faced with a dilemma: How can he be the lone enforcer around the basket for a team that badly needs one to make up for perimeter defensive deficiencies while at the same time worrying about flagrants, technicals and the growing (and unfair) perception that he's a dirty player? How can he live up to his preseason "no more Mr. Nice Guy" promise while still carrying his fun-loving demeanor with him from the locker room to the floor?
"I'm still the same person," Howard said. "I just know when to turn it on and turn it off. One thing my teammates said at the beginning of the year is, they don’t want me to just be this mean guy because they look forward to me coming in the locker room and just having a pretty good time. And I know when it's time to get serious. They don’t want me to change who I am for other people.
"Other people I guess wanted to see me get more serious, but I've never played around with basketball," Howard said. "But I just know that fans come to the games to be entertained. I'm not a UFC fighter. I don’t have to go out there and growl every two minutes to show my team. I just have fun and that's what it's all about."
How much fun the Magic have in the playoffs will depend on solving their turnover mystery and regaining some semblance of defensive consistency. Both of those problems are fixable. The bigger dilemma will be getting Howard to play once again with abandon, without concern for whistles or perceptions, and getting the irascible Van Gundy to lose the filter that Stern surgically implanted between his upper and lower lip. For better or worse, the NBA needs the old Dwight and Stan back. More than ever, so do the Magic.
Posted on: January 7, 2011 8:41 am
PHOENIX -- It was a reflective Grant Hill who sat down with me at the U.S. Airways Center recently in the midst of momentous change for the team he chose to stay with two summers ago, the Phoenix Suns.
As a second-tier free agent in 2009 -- seemingly a lifetime removed from the hype that saw Hill and Tracy McGrady join the Orlando Magic as free agents nine years earlier -- Hill chose to stay with Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire rather than write a new chapter of his remarkable career in Boston or New York. As Hill knows all too well after having his high-flying career derailed by serious ankle injuries that caused him to miss hundreds of games, plenty can change in two minutes in the NBA, much less two years.
The Celtics were back in the Finals last June and appear hell bent on going back there again, and Stoudemire is now in New York, leading a basketball revival at Madison Square Garden. Hill and Nash have been left behind on a Suns team that is quite obviously at a crossroads after a major trade that sent Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark to Hill's former team, the Magic, for Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and Vince Carter. Hill, who at age 38 is having his most productive year since he left Orlando in 2007, said he has no regrets about the decision.
"First of all, it's flattering that former coaches of mine -- Mike D'Antoni, Doc Rivers, and obviously Alvin Gentry here in Phoenix -- were really kind of coming after me hard," Hill said in an interview for CBSSports.com's "In the Moment" series. "It could be worse. They could not want you, I guess.
"It was a fun process. I'm glad I signed back here in Phoenix .We had a great run last year, a great experience. I like the team here. I like the situation, the organization, and I'm happy with the move. Obviously those two other places would've been wonderful and adventurous -- Boston made it to the Finals last year against the Lakers -- but I like what we did last year and I like the challenge that's ahead of us for this year's team."
And quite a challenge it is. The Suns have lost six out of seven since the new players arrived in the trade, and they're in crisis mode as they face a revitalized Knicks team and Stoudemire Friday night at home. Sources familiar with the organization's plan continue to say that GM Lon Babby and assistant GM Lance Blanks do not envision trading Nash and want to give the new group a chance to turn it around before making a final determination on such a drastic teardown move. But if the struggles continue, everyone knows that owner Robert Sarver will not tolerate a playoff payroll on a lottery team.
But for Hill, the challenge of getting the new-look Suns to play better is nothing compared to the personal struggle he's endured. Ankle injuries, multiple surgeries, and a staph infection that nearly killed him -- Hill admitted those challenges nearly broke him. Watch the interview, and at one point you can see him gesture to the heavens as he apologizes for admitting that he almost gave up.
"It has been an amazing journey," Hill said. "I think I've endured a lot because I love the game. I love to play. That's why I almost died at one point after a staph infection. And there was a point -- forgive me -- but there've been some times where I was very low and questioned whether it was all worth it. But as you start to get healthy, as you start to show signs of improvement, then you start to have that goal and that purpose. And that goal is what gets you through those dark moments and makes you ultimately continue to fight."
After all these years and all the hurdles, Hill said, "I still feel like I'm fighting, still trying to prove myself, still trying to overcome. In a lot of ways it was the best thing that ever happened to me."
It's almost as though the Hill we see now -- cunningly picking his spots and doing the dirty work on defense and around the basket -- is a different person than the one who soared into the NBA out of Duke in 1994 and was touted as "The Next Jordan."
"Sometimes you've got to go through those really dark moments in order to really grow," Hill said. "... I wouldn't change it one bit."
Posted on: December 26, 2010 7:22 pm
LOS ANGELES – The best game of the weekend at Staples Center wasn’t on Christmas Day, but the day after. And it didn’t involve Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, but rather a budding superstar whom one of the top coaches in the NBA called “the best athlete in the league” on Sunday.
His name, of course, is Blake Griffin. And he does things like this.
In front of a rare sellout crowd at Staples – for a Clippers game, that is – Griffin stole the holiday weekend show with his 18th consecutive double-double as L.A. beat the Suns 108-103. Griffin had 28 points and 12 rebounds, but that wasn’t the miracle. The miracle was that the Clippers figured out how to close out a tight game with Griffin sitting on the bench after fouling out with 2:52 left.
After some nervous moments down the stretch, including a shot-clock violation in the face of the Suns’ improved defense after last week’s trade, the Suns cut the Clippers’ lead on Mickael Pietrus’ corner 3-pointer with 22.5 seconds left. But Pietrus, who came from Orlando with Marcin Gortat and Vince Carter in the trade that sent Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark to Orlando, still giveth and taketh away. His turnover, forced by Eric Gordon as the Suns were angling for a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, let the Clippers survive without their athletic and emotional leader.
“He’s the best athlete in the league right now,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “As a big guy, if guys are going to throw lobs and stuff like that, there’s nobody that’s even remotely close right now. You have to make him into a basketball player. You have to make him make basketball plays, not athletic plays. In the first half we let him make all of these athletic plays. And with Grant [Hill] guarding him, we made him make basketball plays. I’m pretty sure if you look at the time Grant guarded him, I don’t think he got a basket.”
The Clippers (9-22) are a .500 team over their last 10 games, and with Griffin’s talent and attitude, there is reason to believe this team is heading for better days.
“They’ve got good young players and they’ve done a good job with them,” Gentry said. “I think you’ll continue to see them get better over time. They got off to a rough start, but it’s not so much that. Are you getting better? Are you building up? You can see that they’re getting better.”
The driving force is Griffin, a freakish athlete who has an emotional edge to go with his talent. He refused to back down from Hill, a savvy, 38-year-old veteran who was a year away from his freshman season at Duke when Griffin was born. After absorbing a hard hip-check from Pietrus on his way to the basket in the fourth, Griffin stood over the bodies that had fallen in his wake like bowling pins and screamed. He ran to the defense of teammate Al-Farouq Aminu, who moments earlier had been pulled down by Pietrus on a transition layup attempt.
Gentry is right about Griffin’s athleticism, and the rookie is something else the Clippers have lacked for too long: a superstar with attitude, and by that I mean a good attitude.
Posted on: December 21, 2010 8:14 pm
The Dallas Mavericks are plotting an aggressive push to acquire Carmelo Anthony, even if they don’t get assurances that the three-time All-Star would agree to a contract extension as part of the trade, league sources told CBSSports.com.
Despite his team’s emergence as one of the powers of the Western Conference -- and, as Dallas proved Monday night in Miami, the whole league -- owner Mark Cuban is said to be not only willing to take a chance on Anthony, but eager to steal him from the Nets, who are owned by his billionaire rival, Mikhail Prokhorov. In a deal that would provide Denver with little more than future savings, the Mavs are planning what one rival executive described as a “hard” push.
The Mavs’ interest has yet to take the form of a concrete offer, as one person connected to the Anthony drama told CBSSports.com Tuesday that Dallas had yet to present one. Any prospects the Mavs might have to pull off such a coup would be contingent on Anthony declining to sign an extension with New Jersey. With a signed extension as part of the deal, the Nets still possess by far the most attractive assets to Denver -- Derrick Favors, the expiring contract of Troy Murphy, and multiple first-round picks.
But that is the question that the Anthony saga has hinged on for months. Part of Dallas’ strategy, according to sources, is to shift the Anthony discussions to what Cuban recently called the “rent-a-player” phase, which would drive down the price and encourage other teams to present offers without assurances that Anthony would stay put for five years -- the two he has remaining (including the early-termination option for 2011-12) plus the extension.
Such potential suitors, including the Mavs, do not have enough of what Denver is looking for to compete with New Jersey’s best offer. But if Dallas is successful in shifting Denver’s focus to “rental” deals, the Nets would then have to decide how much they are willing to give up to acquire a franchise cornerstone for their move to Brooklyn -- even if Anthony could leave them in the dust as a free agent before the team even got there.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets remain in a patient posture and are not in any apparent rush to push a New Jersey trade to fruition. And after acquiring two more first-round picks in a three-team trade with the Lakers and Rockets last week, Nets executives are continuing their ongoing efforts to sweeten the deal for Anthony by acquiring a veteran he’d want to play with in Newark, N.J., for a year-and-a-half. Such inducements could come in the form of Al Harrington and/or Chauncey Billups, whom Anthony might be comfortable having on board. The other scenarios, according to one executive familiar with them, are numerous and “beyond challenging” because multiple teams would be needed.
Among the contending teams with the deep pockets and championship core to take a risk like trading for Anthony without a signed extension as part of the deal, Dallas has the most expiring money to make it worth the Nuggets’ while. Any Dallas proposal would have to include the expiring contracts of Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson. More money would need to be added -- Tyson Chandler? -- or a third team would need to be recruited in order to take Harrington and/or Billups off Denver’s hands.
The notion of Anthony going to a contender -- or to the Nets, for that matter -- without signing his three-year, $65 million extension is exactly what New York Knicks officials are hoping for. Sources say the Knicks continue to believe that the longer the Anthony situation plays out, the better their chances of landing him through a trade, or more likely, as a free agent after the season and anticipated lockout. New York has been Anthony’s preferred destination since his operatives began pushing for a trade in September, and a person directly involved in Anthony’s decision-making process told CBSSports.com earlier this month that he’d become more entrenched in his desire to agree to an extend-and-trade only if he would up with the Knicks. CBSSports.com also reported that Anthony has not shared his position with Nuggets officials, and that Nets officials have been told differently by Anthony’s camp.
Another team that various team executives believe is very much in the mix -- either to make a push to land Melo as a rental or become involved as a third-team facilitator -- is the Rockets. Houston fully expects to receive a disabled-player exception for Yao Ming totaling $5.8 million and already has a $6.3 million exception from the Trevor Ariza trade. Such exceptions can’t be combined, but individually they could be used to absorb a contract -- such as, for example, the Nuggets’ J.R. Smith’s or Harrington’s -- without sending equal money back. In return, the Rockets would either have to get a player they want or be compensated accordingly with draft picks or other assets. The Rockets also are flush with the expiring contracts of Shane Battier, Jared Jeffries, and even Yao, whose contract is insured due to his season-ending foot injury.
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has a history of bold moves, and has placed few restrictions on his front office, led by GM Daryl Morey, to spend money in order to win. The Rockets, for example, are currently a tax-paying team and are under no mandate from ownership to shed salary even though they are off to a slow start and have lost Yao for the season -- and maybe for good.
A dark horse in all of this? The Mavs’ opponent Tuesday night, Orlando. The Magic have a little more than two months before the Feb. 24 trade deadline to see if their revamped roster will be good enough to contend for a title after this week’s blockbuster trades with Phoenix and Washington. But the only piece that is likely to be available and enticing to Denver is Jason Richardson, whose $14.4 million contract expires after the season. Richardson cannot be combined with other players in a trade for 60 days, which would leave just enough time before the trade deadline to involve him in the Anthony discussions.
If -- and this is a big if -- Anthony is still a Nugget by then.
Posted on: December 18, 2010 2:57 pm
Edited on: December 18, 2010 5:32 pm
In a blockbuster trade that changes the complexion of the Eastern Conference, the Magic are getting Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson from the Suns and Gilbert Arenas from the Wizards, league sources confirmed to CBSSports.com.
The Suns send Turkoglu back to Orlando, where he thrived, along with Richardson and Earl Clark for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus. Orlando also sends a 2011 first-round pick and cash to Phoenix and acquires Arenas from Washington for Rashard Lewis, the sources said.
It is a swing-for-the-fences for Orlando, which came under immense pressure to make a big trade while losing five of its last six games and taking an obvious back seat to Boston and Miami in the East. Turkoglu, who struggled in stints with Toronto and Phoenix, returns to Orlando -- where he was a key piece in Magic's run to the 2009 NBA Finals.
Arenas is the bigger name, but the key to the deal could be Richardson, a perimeter sniper who fits the Magic's style and gives them a clutch scorer and big-time shooter to further space the floor for Dwight Howard.
The Rockets tried to get into the mix for Gortat, whom they've coveted for several years, but wouldn't give up Kevin Martin, two people familiar with the situation said.
In addition to making Orlando a more potent offensive team -- and, once again, a matchup nightmare with Turkoglu back in the role that suits him best -- the second part of the deal gives a much needed fresh start to Arenas. The former All-Star gets an improbable chance to resurrect his career away from the place where his status as the face of the Wizards franchise crumbled amid persistent knee injuries and a 50-game suspension for bringing firearms to the Verizon Center locker room last season.
Aside from trying to reload in a way that justifies their $94 million payroll, the Magic also are taking bold steps to placate Howard and dissuade him from entering the 2012 free-agent class. Some members of the Magic organization, including Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy, have had serious reservations about bringing in Arenas since CBSSports.com first reported in October that a deal had been arranged for the mercurial superstar over the summer. That deal was built around Carter going to Washington.
Magic GM Otis Smith, who has a close relationship with Arenas from their days in Golden State, will consummate his months-long effort to extract Arenas from Washington. The Wizards, who have turned the franchise over to No. 1 pick John Wall, are all too willing to oblige -- especially given the $62 million Arenas is owed over the next three seasons.
"It was a challenging situation for Gilbert," Arenas' agent, Dan Fegan, told CBSSports.com. "Ted Leonsis gave him a clean slate and really worked to make this situation work. He did a very decent thing by brokering a trade to Orlando and giving Gilbert a second chance."
That is the price Orlando had to pay to make room for Turkoglu and Richardson, whose presence made Lewis -- whose production has significantly declined -- no longer necessary. While the Magic are taking on significant money with Arenas and Turkolgu, Richardson's $14.4 million contract expires after this season. And Turkoglu eases the burden because he accepted a reduction in guaranteed money in 2013-14, the final year of his contract, as part of the trade that sent him from Toronto to Phoenix.
The dual swaps presumably give Orlando a starting lineup of Howard at center, Brandon Bass at power forward, Turkoglu at small forward, Richardson at shooting guard and -- here's the big question -- either Arenas or Jameer Nelson at point guard. Van Gundy also has the flexibility to play Turkoglu at the four in smaller lineups that might feature Richardson at the three with Nelson and Arenas in the backcourt. While Smith could've waited until the 11th hour on the Feb. 24 trade deadline to complete the Lewis-for-Arenas portion, the upside is that Van Gundy gets more time to figure out how to fit all of these pieces together. With Boston having the most continuity among its stars in the East, and with Miami beginning to make its Big Three work on an 11-game winning streak, time is a valuable commodity to the Magic as they try to retool on the fly.
From the Phoenix perspective, the Suns get a much-needed big man in Gortat, a poor man's version of Richardson in Pietrus, and the essentially expiring contract of Carter, who has only $4 million guaranteed next season. But besides Gortat, the primary haul for Phoenix is a first-round pick and $3 million for cash-strapped owner Robert Sarver -- raising serious questions about whether Steve Nash will want to stay in Phoenix to rebuild.
Posted on: May 24, 2010 6:44 pm
PHOENIX -- For the Lakers, talking about the Celtics is taboo, to say the least. Andrew Bynum tried it, and Phil Jackson accused him of a brain -- um -- malfunction. Lakers fans chanted, "We want Boston!" during Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center, and Kobe Bryant chided them for being "disrespectful to the team that we're playing."
But discussing the Celtics' surprising blitz though the postseason -- evicting LeBron James from the second round and getting his coach fired, and now breezing to a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals? That's fair game.
So Bryant was asked on the practice floor Monday how much Boston's ruthless dismantling of the Magic has surprised him.
"Honestly? Zero," Bryant said.
And the Cavs?
"I just thought it was great defense," Bryant said. "I just wasn’t surprised by it. You give them a series to prepare, and they're going to be prepared like you wouldn't believe. They're going to home in on things that you do and take those things away from you. And if you can't make adjustments ... throughout a series, you’re going to have problems."
Yes, even when the Celtics were struggling with a .500 record after Christmas, Bryant saw this coming.
"They started the season off the right way," he said. "Once they stepped back and let [Rajon] Rondo do what he does, that team started taking off. They're a great defensive team -- defense, rebounding, that’s how they punch their ticket. That’s how they go about doing it."
Just don't ask him about playing the Celtics. Not yet. And no more "We want Boston!" chants until this series is over.
"It makes no sense," Bryant said. "No sense."
That must be how the Suns feel trying to defend Bryant. In Game 1, they limited his supporting cast by not double-teaming him, and Bryant scored 40 points. In Game 2, they pressured him when he had the ball and Bryant dished out 13 assists. In Game 3, they played zone on nearly every possession in the second half, and Bryant hurt them both ways -- scoring 36 points and handing out 11 assists.
"You know Kobe’s going to score, there’s no doubt about that," Jason Richardson said. "He’s going to get his 30-plus points or whatever it is. But when he’s doing that, you don’t want him to have 10 or 11 assists because that means he’s getting people involved. We've got to figure out a way. Are we going to let him score or are we going to let him be a distributor? We've got to pick our poison, which one we want. Because you know that any given time he can score, so I don’t think we want him to be a distributor, too."
Suns coach Alvin Gentry has wrestled with how to defend Bryant and also how to combat the Lakers' size advantage. Bryant is going to do what he does, but the best strategy by far that the Suns have employed against L.A.'s front court was Amar'e Stoudemire's aggressiveness in taking the ball to the basket and getting to the foul line in Game 3. Did it work because he was able to get Bynum and Lamar Odom in foul trouble? Or did he get them in foul trouble because the strategy was working? That will be the next stylistic adjustment in a series that could still take a few more strategic twists and turns.
That, and how much zone the Suns want to play. It worked in the second half Sunday night because Bynum and Odom were limited by fouls and the Lakers weren't hitting from the perimeter; they uncharacteristically launched 32 attempts from 3-point range, making only nine.
"I like seeing it a lot when they don’t go in," Gentry said of the Lakers' trigger-happy night beyond the arc. "The zone is good when the shots are not going in. ... It also gave us an opportunity to win, and that’s the only thing that concerns me. I'll do anything. We’ll play any way if it helps us win."
That's one of many reasons why too much Boston talk from the Lakers wouldn't be a wise idea. There are still a few things for the defending champs to figure out between now and then.
Posted on: August 28, 2009 2:14 pm
In the course of getting caught up on my NBA reading after a few days off, it has come to my attention that quite a few words have been written about Ricky Rubio recently. Wake me up when that saga is over. Instead, I'll jump back into the fray with some news on two players who actually have a good chance of playing in the NBA next season.