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Tag:Kobe Bryant
Posted on: September 12, 2010 5:13 pm
 

Odom, Billups deserve to be rewarded

The revelation of the world championships, quite obviously, was Kevin Durant. He did everything for Team USA -- did exactly what was required of a blossoming superstar who was asked to put his imprint on the world basketball stage.

So without a doubt, Durant will be suiting up for the 2012 Olympics in London, when some of the divas who passed on Turkey will be back to defend the gold medal attained by the Redeem Team in Beijing two years ago. But what became plainly apparent Sunday, as the United States ended a 16-year drought in the FIBA worlds by beating Turkey 81-64 for the gold medal, is that not all of those '08 Olympians will be assured of getting their spots back.

Far from it.

It's widely assumed that three spots will be available: those belonging to Jason Kidd, Tayshaun Prince and Michael Redd. So as I plan out Mike Krzyzewski's Olympic roster before Team USA even gets to the airport, I say those spots should go to Durant, Lamar Odom and Chauncey Billups.

When the Americans left U.S. soil as underdogs to Spain in the eyes of many, I felt that however this tournament played out, Odom and Billups deserved spots on the team for London. As good as Durant was, it's impossible to dismiss the championship pedigree Odom and Billups brought to this otherwise woefully inexperienced team. If nothing else, Odom and Billups deserve a spot as a reward for taking one for the country this summer. They stepped up and gave Jerry Colangelo and Coach K their commitments at a time when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were too busy working on their Twitter accounts, and while Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony were occupied with trying to get traded.

As far as tangible contributions, Billups didn't shine during the tournament. But no one should have a problem with him getting the Jason Kidd memorial roster spot in London for his experience and for his trouble this summer. As for Odom, who was brilliant in the gold-medal game with 15 points and 11 rebounds -- including a flurry of putbacks, 3-pointers and work-ethic baskets in the fourth quarter -- he earned a spot regardless. My pal Gregg Doyel still thinks Odom is a lackadaisical yo-yo ; I've always thought he was wrong about that, and that much was proven beyond any doubt in this tournament. Odom was huge for the U.S. It was no coincidence that the Naismith Trophy was handed first to Odom and Billups Sunday in Istanbul. They earned it. American basketball is all about pecking order, and they were right at the top of it, where they belonged.

But this so-called "B-Team" so far exceeded expectations from spots 1-12 that there will be precious little room for sentimentality when Colangelo and Krzyzewski assemble the Olympic roster in two years. Let's say I'm right and you start with Durant, Odom and Billups joining '08 Olympians James, Wade, Anthony, Paul, Kobe Bryant, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams. How do you make room for Derrick Rose (which Colangelo must)? How do you ignore the versatility and defensive intangibles offered by Russell Westbrook (which Colangelo shouldn't)? How do you snub Blake Griffin and Tyreke Evans (you probably can't)? What if John Wall is as good as we think he is (which he is)? What if Rajon Rondo wants to play (which he should)?

As the adage goes, these are some good problems for the Americans to have. A few short years after the embarrassment of bronze medals at the 2006 world championships and 2004 Olympics, USA Basketball is back. It was back in Beijing two summers ago with the Redeem Team. But really, this B-Team should be -- and will be -- remembered for driving home the point.

At a time when reputations and gold medals were on the line, the biggest American stars in the sport took a pass. Those who showed up and got the job done should be rewarded. More than a few, I predict, will be.

 
 

 

Posted on: June 23, 2010 5:03 pm
 

Jackson's decision has far-reaching implications

The big news about 30 hours before the NBA draft didn’t involve John Wall, Evan Turner or DeMarcus Cousins. It revolved around a 64-year-old coach with artificial hips and a finger on the pulse on the coaching and free agency landscape – a fellow named Phil Jackson.

One of the biggest dominoes of the offseason didn’t exactly tumble Wednesday, but it’s teetering – toward retirement.

“I’m leaning towards retiring but I have not made up my mind,” Jackson told reporters as the back-to-back champion Lakers conducted their season-ending exit interviews.

Big news. Or is it? The Zen Master carefully worded the most definitive statement yet about his future, leaving the door open to returning for a chance at a three-peat. Given that Jackson conceded during the NBA Finals that he’s been told a significant pay cut would be required if he returned to the Lakers next season, this could be Phil’s way of forcing Dr. Jerry Buss’ hand.

It also could be a graceful way for the 11-time champion to exit stage left, turning the reins over to former Laker Byron Scott – whose candidacy for the Cavs’ coaching job is officially on hold while Jackson makes his final decision.

Scott is serious about the Cleveland job, and the Cavs are serious about him. But everyone involved understands that Scott’s dream job is coaching the Lakers. While Kobe Bryant has been adamant that he wants Jackson back, he’d be amenable to Scott taking over if that’s the way it had to be.

In some ways, it would be the perfect way for Scott to validate his coaching resume – taking over a team that is loaded with talent and poised to win at least one more championship while Bryant is still in his prime. One of the knocks on Scott is that he wears out his welcome in the locker room after two or three years, and that’s about all this Lakers dynasty has left, anyway.

Jackson has said there’s a 90 percent chance that he’s either coaching the Lakers next season or not coaching at all. Depending on your skill level with mathematics, that means there’s a 10 percent chance he’s coaching somewhere else. To that point, the Clippers and even the Cavs will continue to hold out hope that they could lure Jackson. Both presumably would offer a multi-year deal, whereas Jackson’s tenure with the Lakers has been made up of a series of one-year deals in recent years. But it’s difficult to believe that Buss would stand idly by and watch Jackson jilt Bryant for LeBron James. Could you ever imagine Jackson doing that to Michael Jordan in his prime? Also, at this point Jackson has earned the right to be taken at his word that health and the grind of the NBA season – 114 games for the Lakers this past season from preseason to Game 7 of the Finals – are the only factors he’s considering.

So we wait for Phil to make his next move, which will affect a lot of other moves across the basketball landscape.
Posted on: June 18, 2010 6:33 pm
Edited on: June 18, 2010 8:00 pm
 

Finals over, now time for main event

LOS ANGELES – At the risk of looking ahead before the party at Ron Artest’s house is over, it’s time to consider how different the NBA landscape will look the next time someone hoists the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Everyone but Gregg Doyel seemed to enjoy the epic, seven-game series given to us by the Lakers and Celtics. In fact, the series was ABC's most-viewed Finals and Game 7 was the most-watched NBA game since Michael Jordan's last championship shot in 1998 against the Jazz. At a time when owners and executives are understandably nervous about what the future will hold under a new collective bargaining agreement, it didn’t hurt for the sport to put its best foot forward for two weeks in June.

The momentum will carry right into the draft next week, when the NBA welcomes its next potential superstar, John Wall. Then, the main event: free agency, beginning July 1. The decisions and alliances that will be made during the first week of July could shift the balance of power and change the sport for the next decade.

Will LeBron James stay in Cleveland, to be joined by Chris Bosh or another high-profile free agent in a sign-and-trade? Will he form an alliance with Dwyane Wade in Miami, Derrick Rose in Chicago, or a superstar-to-be-named-later in New York? Will Kobe Bryant, fresh off his fifth title, push for a sign-and-trade scenario that would add Bosh to the Lakers’ embarrassment of riches?

The possibilities are endless, though Bryant was in no mood to contemplate all of this after celebrating his second straight title Thursday night. Asked by an enterprising reporter about the daunting possibility of facing a team with, say, LeBron and Wade in next year’s Finals, Bryant shot back, “What is it with you? You want to just emotionally drain me? I don’t want to think about that. Those guys, I’ve seen those guys up close and personal. I don’t want to think about playing against both of them at the same time. I want to enjoy this for a little bit.”

Not for long.

Once the free agency dust settles, the focus will shift from the Summer of LeBron to an army of lawyers, actuaries and accountants who are wrestling with the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the collective bargaining agreement. As thrilling as the Lakers-Celtics series was, it only underscored how concentrated the power – and titles – are among the big-market, high-revenue teams. Despite the fact that the players will include a plan for changing the league’s revenue-sharing model when they submit a proposal to the league in the next two weeks, sources indicate that NBA negotiators remain adamant that revenue sharing will not be part of the bargaining process. Months after getting an early start on negotiations, the owners and players still disagree on the validity of $400 million in losses stated by commissioner David Stern. Any way you slice it, it’s going to be a long, ugly fight with the goal of preventing a work stoppage when the current agreement expires on June 30, 2011.

Which brings us back to how things will look the next time the confetti is falling as Stern hands over the championship trophy 12 months from now. Stern’s NBA could be embarking on the most impactful era of basketball since Jordan retired, with big stars in big markets and world-wide interest in the sport perhaps even surpassing the Jordan era. And this could also be true next June: The NBA could be days away from a lockout that would kill all the momentum.

These are important times with a lot at stake, and with no time to do what Bryant pleaded with reporters to let him do: Enjoy it for a little bit.



Posted on: June 17, 2010 7:32 pm
 

Summer of change looming for Lakers, Celtics


LOS ANGELES – Among the subplots swirling around Game 7 of the NBA Finals is what happens next for both teams. Regardless of the outcome, big changes could be on the way for the Lakers and Celtics.

Boston’s Big Three aren’t getting any younger, and Doc Rivers hasn’t tipped his hand about whether he’ll step away from coaching next season to spend more time with his family. The Lakers’ roster is far less fragile than it was when they lost to the Pistons in the 2004 Finals, but the key figure who holds everything together, Phil Jackson, has the power to blow it all apart.

“There’s a lot of questions in terms of what Phil’s going to do,” said Derek Fisher, the Lakers’ only core player who isn’t under contract for next season. “He’s probably the biggest thing that turns the trifle in terms of how the future looks, as far as whether he’s back or not.”

When the Lakers have experienced playoff failures in the past – the poor showing in the ’04 Finals, the back-to-back first-round losses to Phoenix – the threat of major changes has never been far behind. The ’04 team was a different story, given the way it was patched together with future Hall of Famers Gary Payton and Karl Malone. After the 2007 loss to the Suns, Kobe Bryant went on the infamous offseason rampage when he issued, then rescinded a trade demand.

“You talk about franchises where there’s tradition to win championships, that’s what you expect,” Lamar Odom said. “This is the type of pressure that we live for. This is what makes us. This is what makes being a sportsman, playing for an organization that’s established like this: the Cowboys, the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics, the L..A. Lakers. That’s just the way it is.”

The key figure who could prevent all hell from breaking lose in Laker Land, Jackson, hasn’t tipped his hand – not even to his players and coaches.

“Although it appears that I’m a lot closer to it, I’m actually in the same seat that you are,” said assistant coach Brian Shaw, one of those who would be in line to replace Jackson if he retired. “He hasn’t let us know or given us an indication one way or the other. So we have to just sit and play it by ear just like everybody else.”

Said Fisher: “I have no clue to be honest. I don’t think he does either. He tries to teach us in terms of just embracing the now and the moment and being here in the present and not really worrying about what’s coming down the line. I think it’s the same way for him. I think he’ll gage where he is emotionally and physically. Obviously, the result [of Game 7] could play a part in it.”

Same goes for the Celtics, who face the prospect of losing Rivers and seeing that trigger major roster changes. Ray Allen will be an unrestricted free agent, Paul Pierce can opt out of his contract and become one, and Kevin Garnett – though under contract for two more years – clearly is in decline.

"It’s one of the toughest things, which Boston will face here probably pretty shortly,” said Shaw, a former Celtic and Laker. “KG is getting up there, plus Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rasheed [Wallace]. I know the Boston team that I played on in the late 80s, they had [Kevin] McHale, [Robert] Parrish, DJ [Dennis Johnson], [Larry] Bird – these guys all kind of got older at the same time. Do you show loyalty and keep everybody until the wheels fall off and then have to start over? Look how long it took Boston to get back to where they are now. Or do you say, ‘Some guys are getting kind of towards the end,’ and try to infuse some youth?’”

Critical decisions that both teams will be facing, days or even hours after one of them is crowned champion.
Posted on: June 7, 2010 3:45 pm
 

Lakers mull adjustments for Game 3


LOS ANGELES – The game wasn’t even over for an hour, and already Kobe Bryant’s mind was back in Boston. Back to the scene of one of the most bitter disappointments of his Hall of Fame career.

It was two years ago when Bryant walked out of the new Boston Garden with a 39-point loss to the Celtics in Game 6 of the Finals haunting him. It had been four years since Bryant had been back to the Finals, and this was the memory he’d carry with him into a long, painful offseason: Celtics fans pelting the team bus with expletives and garbage.

So Bryant’s mood deteriorated rapidly on Sunday night, after the Lakers lost home-court advantage with a 103-94 loss to the Celtics that evened the Finals at 1-1 going back to Boston. On the chartered flight, memories of the 2008 Finals surely were on his mind, not to mention the screech of the referees’ whistle.

Bryant was a non-factor in Game 2, taken out of the mix by foul trouble. Bryant finished the game with five fouls, and backcourt mate Derek Fisher had three – emblematic of the Lakers’ defensive struggles against the devastating combination of Ray Allen’s 3-point shooting and Rajon Rondo’s mastery in the open court. So when it comes to adjustments for Game 3, it begins and ends there for the Lakers.

Phil Jackson made a choice heading into the series that Rondo would be the player most deserving of Bryant’s defensive attention. It worked in Game 1; not so much in Game 2, due in part to a tough whistle on Bryant and also to the Celtics’ improved defense and rebounding, which were the catalyst for Rondo’s latest playoff triple-double. Rondo makes the Celtics’ engine go, but the problem with putting Bryant in his path played out in Game 2, with Fisher unable to reroute Allen around screens or shrink his air space enough to contest his shots.

So with the series shifting to Boston for the middle three games, will Jackson consider putting Fisher on Rondo, with the knowledge that the Lakers’ point guard has fared OK against Deron Williams and Steve Nash in the two previous series? Will he need to use Bryant’s length and strength to slow Allen’s 3-point rampage?

It’s a tricky proposition for Jackson. Though Bryant’s aching knee has improved during the course of the playoffs, putting him in a rat race around screens with Allen could sap the energy he needs on the offensive end. But if Allen keeps getting the looks he got in Game 2, the Lakers will be in for another disastrous outcome in Boston.

What to do? Before watching the film or deciding what strategic adjustments to make, Jackson first took aim at the officials in the aftermath of Sunday night’s loss. With a fine from the NBA office almost certainly to follow, consider it a $25,000 down payment by Jackson to get the officials’ attention should he decide to stay with the same defensive approach in Game 3.

“When they take away any bumps, when Fish is trying to make him divert his path and they don't allow him to do that, they call fouls on Fish and that really gives him an opportunity to take whatever route he wants,” Jackson said. “That really makes it very difficult. We just have to adjust to the ballgame [and] to what the referees are going to call. Are they going to allow us to take direct line cuts away from him so he has to divert his route, [or] get a foul called on Fisher? That makes for a totally different type of ballgame. Then Fish has to give the routes that he wants to run and then he's got to play from behind all the time. That's an adjustment we all need to make in the course of this series.”

One that will have plenty to do with the outcome.
Posted on: May 28, 2010 6:35 pm
Edited on: May 28, 2010 6:42 pm
 

Pieces in place for Lakers-Suns chess match

PHOENIX -- The last time Kobe Bryant walked out of U.S. Airways Center, he was “jovial” – which is to say, he was spitting mad. The Lakers’ defense had faltered badly in Game 4, and Bryant was none too pleased that such a lapse would come at a crucial time in the Lakers’ championship defense.

So he fumed in the postgame interview room, railing stone-faced about how the Lakers had lost their defensive urgency and how they needed to get it back – and fast. The defending champs had succumbed to a barrage of 11 3-pointers, 49 percent shooting and 18 offensive rebounds in losing Game 4 115-106.

There was another defensive lapse in the second half of Game 5 at Staples Center – or “lapses,” as Bryant called them – when the Suns erased an 18-point deficit in the third quarter and an 11-point deficit in the fourth. Everyone will remember the chaotic, improbable finish, with Ron Artest catching, landing, and shooting the game-winner at the buzzer off Bryant’s air ball. But the other 47 minutes, 56.5 seconds of Game 5 provided a lot more clues as to how Game 6 might turn out Saturday night in Phoenix.

The Lakers did a much better job handling the Suns’ 2-3 zone, despite the fact that their shooting percentage declined from 50 percent in Game 4 to 42 percent in Game 5. They did it with dribble-penetration and ball-reversal, which made it easier to get the ball into the post, where Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom either kicked it out of the collapsing zone, worked their hi-lo interior passing Magic, or went to the basket. The Lakers’ triangle offense still wasn’t nearly as crisp against the zone, but it was more efficient than it had been since Suns coach Alvin Gentry adopted the strategy early in Game 3.

But Bryant had made it clear after Game 4 that he didn’t want the focus on offense, “which doesn’t win championships.” That’s why it’s worth noting a key tactical shift for the Lakers’ defense, and a greater commitment to rebounding and running the Suns off 3-point shots – with Bryant himself, unsurprisingly, leading the charge.

The Lakers’ defensive effort, the kind prescribed by Bryant after Game 4, began showing up midway through the third quarter as the Suns were trying to cut the deficit into single digits. Artest, who later would go from goat to hero in a matter of seconds, blocked Amar’e Stoudemire’s shot and then stole the ball from Steve Nash leading to his own layup that made it 67-51 Lakers with 6:13 left in the quarter. The teams exchanged baskets for the next two minutes, a breakneck pace the Lakers want to avoid, when Bryant put a stop to it himself.

Stoudemire, seeing a different look with the Lakers switching on pick-and-rolls, lost the ball out of bounds for his fourth turnover. On the Suns’ next trip, Bryant soared in the lane and blocked Stoudemire’s shot – a statement play from the “jovial” Bryant, who got his third block of the night. It was 73-56 Lakers, but they couldn’t sustain the defensive effort – sure to be a point of emphasis in Game 6.

“We had a mental lapse,” Bryant said. “Mental lapses – transition defense and giving up 3-point shots and great looks. But the defense had been steady pretty much all night, except for that spurt when we enabled them to get back into it.”

There were more statements from Bryant, who aggressively closed out on Jared Dudley at the 3-point line and forced him instead into an off-balance runner that he missed with the Lakers leading 83-72 early in the fourth. After the Suns cut it to 88-83, Bryant got his fourth block, this time on Goran Dragic, and grabbed the defensive rebound with 6:24 left.

“Defensively we were terrific,” Bryant said. “We did a great job. We had a stretch where we enabled them to get back in the game, but for the most part we did a good job.”

Despite the way it ended for the Suns, Game 5 was the first time in the series that the road team dictated its tempo and style. The Lakers survived with a little luck, with consistent – if not always effective – effort on the defensive end, and with Artest showing far better instincts on the last play than he’d shown moments earlier when he launched an ill-advised 3-pointer when the right play was to run out the clock and wait for the Suns to foul.

Despite the shift in venue, expect a carbon copy of Game 5 Saturday – without the ending, of course. For five games, the Suns and Lakers have felt each other out, and now it’s clear how they’re going to attack each other and try to stop each other.

“We know what they want to do now,” Stoudemire said. “They’re going to switch the screen-rolls and try to take me out the game. We still need Steve to be aggressive.”

By switching on pick-and-rolls, thus doubling Stoudemire and leaving a big man on Nash, the Lakers turned the Suns’ prolific passer into more of a scorer in Game 5. Nash was up to the task, ripping off one difficult and clutch shot after another in the closing minutes. Nash will be a scorer if he needs to be, but the Suns can counter the Lakers’ strategy by simply setting another screen for Nash and forcing the Lakers to make another decision. If there’s an open man to be found, Nash will find him. And as is always the case with the Suns, if they shoot the ball at a high percentage, they usually win.

“Whatever they throw at us, I think there’s something we can do to use our abilities,” Nash said. “They had a big guy on me. I tried to be aggressive, and the next game I’ll do the same. Or if they change it, we’ll go to whatever else they’re giving up.”

Before he’d even left the arena Thursday night, Nash was already moving pieces around on the chess board in his mind. And you can bet that Bryant, albeit more quietly this time, was doing the same thing.
Posted on: May 25, 2010 9:14 pm
 

Source: Phil won't return with big pay cut

PHOENIX – Phil Jackson said Tuesday he “just can’t imagine” coaching any other team next season. But the Lakers' coach refused to close the door on leaving for other opportunities, while a person with ties to him told CBSSports.com that he would not return to L.A. next season with a significant pay cut.

On reports in the past 24 hours that the Bulls and Nets have reached out to Jackson or his representatives through “backchannels,” Jackson said, “Those channels have not reached me. I have no awareness of that at all.”

But given the chance to shut down the rumors and commit to the Lakers or retirement next season, Jackson said, “I’ve always had problems committing. … I’ll leave it open and just say that, as of now, I have not made up my mind about coaching or not coaching next year. That’s all I can say, really, truthfully.”

On reports indicating the Bulls’ interest in orchestrating a reunion with Jackson in Chicago, Jackson said, “I have no, at all, desire to go back to Chicago to coach the Bulls.” As for the Nets, whose bid for Jackson would be fueled by deep-pocketed Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov, Jackson said, “I’d like to have a vodka with him. He seems like a very interesting young man.”

“I have not entertained any conversations about [coaching elsewhere] right now, so I just can’t imagine it,” Jackson said. “That’s not to say it’s beyond the wildest dreams or never would happen, but it’s not part of my conscious thought.”

Jackson does not have a contract for next season, and has acknowledged that he has been asked to take a pay cut from his $12 million salary. Asked if he knew what “backchannels” may have been operating on his behalf – or on behalf of the teams – Jackson said, “No I really don’t. I’m not aware of how you would go about doing that, unless you’re talking about Mark Twain stuff or Huckleberry Finn – those kind of channels rather than the river.”

Jackson, 64, got a lot of laughs for that line, but this is no laughing matter for the Lakers. While Jackson reiterated his hunch Tuesday that there’s a 90 percent chance he’ll either be coaching the Lakers next season or retiring, a person with close ties to Jackson told CBSSports.com that it’s too early to set odds. If Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss insists on a massive pay cut, the person said, Jackson would not return. Published reports have indicated that Buss is seeking to pay Jackson $5 million next season, a pay cut of $7 million.

The source close to Jackson indicated that the question of how much Jackson’s pay would be reduced is, to some degree, semantics. Given that he is close to retirement age, a significant portion of Jackson’s salary could be deferred in the form of retirement benefits that he would see without penalty in two years.

Another person with knowledge of Jackson’s situation said it would be difficult to imagine him leaving the Lakers with Kobe Bryant in the prime of his career and having just signed a three-year extension. The person equated it to overtures that frequently came Jackson’s way when he coached Michael Jordan in Chicago, saying Jackson never would’ve left Jordan in his prime, either.

But one of those sources said circumstances could change with the possibility of Jackson becoming bait to lure LeBron James to the Bulls, who have maximum salary-cap space to sign him and a quality roster that Jackson views favorably. The person said the Jackson/LeBron situation was plausible, considering Jackson would have the chance to complete a potentially irresistible trifecta – coaching Jordan and Bryant, and then capping his career with James.

All of this continued to unfold about an hour before the Lakers took the floor to play the Suns in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

“They’re no distraction,” Jackson said of the reports. “Not to me, and not to the players, either. It’s a distraction, I think, to other teams and I think a disservice to coaches that are really seeking jobs and have opportunities to go to those towns.”

Posted on: May 24, 2010 6:44 pm
 

Kobe: Celtics' success no surprise

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.



 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com