Tag:Kobe Bryant
Posted on: March 5, 2010 1:02 am
 

Kobe: Wade needs help

MIAMI – After the Lakers sleep-walked through another in a string of sluggish, disinterested starts and lost to a Heat team just happy to be back at .500, did Kobe Bryant think it was panic time?

No.

Did he think the Lakers needed anything dramatic to shake them from their doldrums on the road, where the defending champs are a pedestrian 9-8 this calendar year – with 10 of their next 13 games away from Staples?

Not really.

After scoring 39 points and hitting the overtime-forcing jumper in his sixth game back from a five-game absence with a nagging assortment of injuries, Bryant’s most astute observation was not about his team, but about the opponent.

The guy who needs a little help was wearing a Miami Heat jersey Thursday night.

“He had 14 assists, but there’s still too much on him,” Bryant said after Wade did it all – 27 points and 14 assists – in Miami’s 114-111 overtime victory over the Lakers. “He literally had to make every play, had to try to penetrate and pitch in. That can wear you down. So hopefully, he’ll get somebody who can step up and make plays and give him a couple of plays off.”

This is a sensitive topic in these parts, and also in a certain city on the Cuyahoga River where free agency D-Day looms. Every crucial Miami basket Thursday night came from Wade or resulted in a play he set up with his play-making dominance. You watch him will his .500 team to a victory over the defending champs, and you wonder: Damn, how good would he be with some help?

In fairness, he got more than usual Thursday night – 25 points from Quentin Richardson, who along with Wade had Ron Artest’s head on a swivel all night. Q-Rich made 7-for-11 from 3-point range, including one off an assist from Wade that gave the Heat a 99-97 lead with 11.1 seconds left. Instead of that being the game-winner, Kobe casually accepted the ensuing inbounds pass, dribbled the length of the court, and drilled the tying jumper over Wade with 3.3 seconds left.

Wade also didn’t have to make the two defensive plays of the night. Those were turned in by Jermaine O’Neal in the final minute of overtime – a chase-down block of Jordan Farmar and a drawn charge against Bryant with 18.7 seconds left. But in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, nearly every one of Miami’s baskets and scoring opportunities came from Wade. Of course they did. Who else? 

“He’s a fantastic player,” Bryant said. 

Despite Artest’s interesting comment that the Lakers won’t see Miami again “until June” – what, June 2011? – Wade will have to settle for being fantastic player happy to get the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. And there are no guarantees about that. 

“When I had the ball and gave it up to Q to hit that three, that shows my teammates that I’m about winning,” Wade said. “I’m not about, ‘I need to hit this shot because Kobe just hit a shot.’ To me, it’s not about that.”

No, Wade doesn’t want or need Kobe’s pity – and that’s not how Kobe meant it, anyway. Hey, not every superstar has the good fortune of playing with two 7-footers, one of the most dominant shutdown defenders in the league, and a guy named Lamar Odom coming off the bench. 

Not every team is so good it can sputter around for three quarters against one of the top three players in the world and still have a chance to win at the end. Cognizant of all this, the Lakers were appropriately nonplused by the evening’s events. The postgame comment that most closely approximated concern was this from Artest: “Unfortunately, I think we took this game lightly. … We have to start winning some games on the road. We have to.” 

The only other perceptible bristling in the Lakers’ postgame routine came from Phil Jackson, who just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tweak the referees and invite a sizeable fine for the good of the team. With 29 seconds left in regulation and the Lakers leading 97-96, Bryant air-balled a 20-footer. Only neither Bryant nor Jackson thought it was self-induced. 

“Kobe shot an airball, but I’m sure he didn’t shoot an airball,” Jackson said. “It’s unconscionable that that call can’t be made at that point in the game.”

Informed of Jackson’s description, Bryant said, “That’s a good term. A good term. I actually stopped playing for a second. I thought I didn’t hear the whistle, honestly.” 

For Bryant, there’s always the next game, with plenty of reinforcements at the ready.
Posted on: February 11, 2010 5:18 pm
Edited on: February 11, 2010 6:33 pm
 

Kobe, Iverson out for All-Star (UPDATE)

DALLAS -- Kobe Bryant's injured ankle will keep him out of Sunday's All-Star Game, with hometown point guard Jason Kidd replacing him for the West. Allen Iverson also will miss the game while he tends to his ill daughter, replaced by David Lee.

Bryant, who tied Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy, Kevin Garnett, and John Havlicek for the third-most All-Star selections with 13, missed the Lakers' last three games before the break with an assortment of injuries. A sprained left ankle is what KO'd him for Sunday.

Kidd's selection means that Golden State's Monta Ellis gets snubbed for the third time. Chauncey Billups and Chris Kaman were previously picked as injury replacements over the Warriors' guard, who is sixth in the league in scoring.

Iverson, an 11-time All-Star, has been out since Feb. 3 to deal with his daughter's undisclosed health issues. Lee, a first-time All-Star having the best season of his career, gives the Knicks their first All-Star selection since 2001. Lee was named MVP of the rookie challenge in 2007.

East coach Stan Van Gundy and West coach George Karl will decide who replaces Bryant and Iverson in the starting lineups.

The NBA's official All-Star roster denotes starters with an asterisk (*) and injury replacements with an ampersand (&). Allow me to suggest using the asterisk for Kidd, whose appointment to the West squad was as much about the weather as anything else. Dallas was beseiged by a persistent snowstorm Thursday, with 7-9 inches predicted before it's over. Kidd, reportedly in Phoenix, will thus have a shot at actually making it to Dallas by Sunday.

Posted on: January 23, 2010 12:37 am
 

Kobe hits the Lakers where it hurts

NEW YORK – The mental minefield Kobe Bryant began planting in Cleveland stretched all the way to New York, where the Lakers embarked on the second game of an eight-game road trip with his words still ringing in their ears.

Not tough enough.

Not part of their D.N.A.

Need to be hungrier.

“He’s a killer,” Lamar Odom was saying in the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden Friday night. “He’s always gonna see things the way he sees them. He’s our leader, so if he sees that then we have to address it – and the way we address it is on the court. … Our problem right now is our cockiness, so he might be right.”

After the Lakers failed to close out a game in Cleveland Thursday night, thus surrendering the season series to the Cavs, Bryant wanted to leave no doubt about where the defending champs’ heads must be on this trip. The Lakers ran out to an 18-3 start, playing only four of their first 21 games on the road. Now they’re 0-2 against the Cavs and had lost five of their last six road games entering the Garden Friday night.

“Guys need to get going,” Bryant said after the Lakers beat the Knicks 115-105, “because I need them on this trip.”

Complacency has always been the enemy of these Lakers, and Bryant knows by now which buttons to push. He had stewed for months after the Lakers proved too soft to beat the Celtics in the ’08 Finals, and so he went for the jugular after the Cleveland loss by trotting out those hurtful buzzwords at the first sign of weakness.

Nobody in the NBA senses weakness like Bryant, and that goes for his teammates – not just his opponents.

Phil Jackson didn’t necessarily agree with Bryant’s assault on the Lakers’ lack of toughness, but it didn’t matter. The message was delivered. And it wasn’t just delivered to the notebook-toting masses. It was delivered in the locker room, too.

“We have to be prepared for teams to come after us,” Odom said. “I never knew how hard it was gonna be to try to repeat as champions. He does. So that might be his way of pushing us a little bit.”

Needing a push has been part of the problem, according to renowned locker-room philosopher Ron Artest. It was Artest who was brought to L.A. to stop LeBron James, and he willingly admitted Friday night that he’s 0-for-2. On Christmas Day, LeBron scored 26 in a 102-87 Cleveland victory and Artest fell down some stairs at home afterward and got a concussion. On Thursday night, LeBron had his way again with 37 points in a 93-87 victory without injured guard Mo Williams.

“I guess that’s why they got me, to take him out of the game,” Artest said. “[Thursday] it didn’t work. They got us this year, so all we can do is move on from that and see what happens in the playoffs.”

Artest is new to the Lakers’ midseason blahs, but he’s a quick study. The Lakers are so good, so talented, so dominant, he said, that the games are too easy for them to be engaged all the time.

“We haven’t played good basketball this whole year and I don’t even know how we’re in first place,” Artest said. “We don’t even know. We’re out there sometimes trying to figure out how we’re still in first place. … You can play against a couple of teams that have some star players or whatever, coast through the whole game, and win by 20 – real easy. And that’s how it’s been for us this whole season. A lot of wins just came from it really just being too easy for us. Sometimes it’s not fair. We’re up 20 in the first quarter. What else are you gonna do but win by 100 points? I guess that’s what we have to start doing.”

That’s where Bryant comes in, pressing his teammates’ feet back on the pedal. The ring finger on his shooting hand is broken in two places, his back is sore, and he just passed the halfway point of his 14th season. With those ailments and mileage, on the second night of a back-to-back, there wasn’t enough in the tank for his usual Garden explosion; Bryant was 8-for-24 for a pedestrian 27 points. But even if he had it in him, he said his teammates didn’t deserve it.

“I don’t think the way that we’re playing right now that we’re ready for that,” he said.

The rest of the trip will take them to Toronto, Washington, Indiana, Philadelphia, Boston, and Memphis a week from Monday. At some point, Bryant wants the D.N.A. to mutate.

The Lakers are 33-10, a half-game up on Cleveland for the best record in the league. If they face the Cavs in the Finals, they’re going to need it to attain homecourt advantage.

“We didn’t have [the best record] last year,” Jackson said. “And all of a sudden, Cleveland lost and Orlando stepped out into the vacuum. You can’t diminish it, but at some time you have to win on the road.”

Having achieved his desired result, at least for one night, Bryant went about his usual postgame meet-and-greets in the crowded hallways of the Garden, his favorite arena. He signed a pair of shoes for an actor from India, greeted someone who used to play in the driveway with Bryant’s father, Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, and shook every outstretched hand. Then it was down the freight elevator to a car that would take him to West 125th Street in Harlem, to a hush-hush event at the House of Hoops.

Mind games will resume on an as-needed basis.
Posted on: January 21, 2010 12:46 pm
 

Best NBA rivalries ever

With Kobe vs. LeBron Thursday night in Cleveland, it's the perfect time to come up with a list of the top five individual rivalries in NBA history.

Michael Jordan makes the list, but only barely; he never had an individual rival or anyone close to his equal.

Kobe and LeBron make it, even though they haven't (yet) competed head-to-head for a championship. But as (arguably) the two best individual performers in the game -- albeit at different stages of their careers -- this is as good as it gets in modern times. (And not because of the puppet commercials.)

So with the following rough criteria -- competing for championships, relative difference in skill level, and the competitiveness of their teams -- here are my top five individual rivalries in NBA history:

1) Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell: This is a no brainer. The two dominant players of their generation competed for the Eastern Conference title six times and the NBA title twice. Russell forever lords over Chamberlain in the debate over who (other than Jordan) was the best player ever, due to his 11 championships compared to Chamberlain's two.

2) Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson: Their rivalry began in college with the seminal NCAA title game between Indiana State and Michigan State in 1979, which made the NCAA Tournament what it is today. It continued throughout their NBA careers with the Celtics and Lakers lifting the NBA to national prominence with three NBA Finals matchups in the '80s. Lakers vs. Celtics is all you need to say to conjure memories than span generations.

3) Bird vs. Julius Erving: Before we had Bird vs. Magic on the NBA stage, we had Bird vs. Dr. J. Their teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals in four of the first six years of the '80s, splitting the four meetings to determine who would go on to face the Lakers in the Finals (with the exception of 1981, when the Celtics faced the Rockets). Who among us (in 35-and-up demographic) didn't get his first video game experience on that grainy but thrilling "One on One" video game featuring Bird and Dr. J?

4) Kobe vs. LeBron: I put them here because of A) What is, and B) What might still be. LeBron is just entering his prime, when presumably he will begin stockpiling championships. Unlike Jordan at a similar stage of his career, LeBron has a formidable, immortal rival in Bryant who is still standing in the way. Kobe continues to play at a high level and has a chance to keep LeBron's championship trophy case barren for a couple of more years. (And they have the puppet marketing machine going for them, too.)

5) Jordan vs. Isiah Thomas: As inhabitants of the same conference, Mike and Zeke never squared off with a championship on the line. But Jordan's epic battles against Isiah's Bad Boy Pistons -- taking his lumps in the '89 and '90 Eastern Conference Finals before finally breaking through in '91 -- marked the emergence of one of the all-time greats. By supplanting Isiah and the Pistons, Jordan dispensed with the last true individual rival he would face en route to six NBA titles in eight years. Their rivalry also transcended the court; it was personal. Isiah's alleged "freezeout" of Jordan in the 1985 All-Star Game, Jordan's alleged efforts to sabotage Thomas' failed bid to be included on the 1992 Dream Team, and the visceral hatred that exists to this day between Jordan's long-time agent, David Falk, and Thomas makes this a must in my top five.






Posted on: January 21, 2010 11:39 am
Edited on: January 21, 2010 7:48 pm
 

All-Star Starters (UPDATE)

Embarrassment averted.

The All-Star starters were revealed Thursday night on TNT before the nationally televised rematch of the Cavs' Christmas Day blowout of the Lakers.

Thankfully, Tracy McGrady wasn't one of them.

All hail Steve Nash, who passed T-Mac in the final weeks of voting and will start alongside Kobe Bryant in the Western Conference backcourt in the Feb. 14 All-Star Game in Dallas. McGrady, who has played all of six games this season, won't be faced with the inglorious decision of having to decline an invitation he didn't deserve.

In another fan-voting quirk that was less controversial than a T-Mac starting nod would've been, Allen Iverson will start alongside Dwyane Wade in the Eastern Conference backcourt. The other East starters: Dwight Howard, LeBron James, and Kevin Garnett (assuming he's healthy).

Joining Kobe and Nash on the West's starting five: Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Tim Duncan, who passed Dirk Nowitzki in the final three weeks of voting.

"No Dirk as a starter?" Mavs owner Mark Cuban tweeted. "Time to change the rules for voting."

McGrady carried a 2,375-vote lead over Nash into the final three weeks of balloting, which was conducted by fans via paper, online, and wireless voting. If Nash hadn't passed McGrady, the right thing for T-Mac to do would've been politely decline.

It wouldn't have cost him a dime, either. A source with knowledge of the situation said McGrady has no All-Star bonus clauses in his contract, which pays him a league-high $23 million this season.

It's better for everyone this way. McGrady is trying to come back from microfracture surgery. More to the point, he would benefit immensely if the Rockets were somehow able to trade him before the Feb. 18 trade deadline. McGrady didn't need to risk his health or his already suffering reputation by trying to dust himself off for a few meaningless All-Star minutes.

I don't have a problem with Iverson starting; he's been a fan favorite his entire career, certainly deserves it based on his body of work, and -- this is important -- is actually suiting up for the Sixers, albeit at a remarkably reduced rate of effectiveness.

In spite of Nash's fortunate comeback, I agree with Boston's Ray Allen and would be in favor of tweaking the voting system to divide the say-so among fans, media members, and players. The players, more than anybody else, know who's deserving and who isn't. The coaches should retain their ability to select the reserves. 

On one hand, you don't want to take away the fans' investment in the game, which after all is at least partly -- or mostly -- for their entertainment. But the All-Star Game badly needs a dose of legitimacy. Gone are the days when Michael Jordan or Dominique Wilkins could dominate All-Star weekend with their exploits in the dunk contest. That exercise long ago became a farce, and once again none of the marquee stars will participate this year.

So instead of complaining, I offer a solution. Not the only solution, but a start. Instead of voting by position, the fans vote for any 10 players they want from each conference. The players do the same. Their votes are weighted equally, and the top eight in each conference make the team. All 30 coaches vote to determine the 10 starters. The East coach and West coach fill out the roster with four reserves each.

The media? I'm not sure whom to count as media anymore, so let's leave us out of it. We'll just write about what happens.

Perfect? No. Somebody will get snubbed; they always do. But it's better than people constantly texting the word McGrady until they almost succeed in making a mockery of what is supposed to be a serious honor.

If there are any better ideas out there, you know what to do.






Posted on: January 13, 2010 9:15 pm
 

Allen: NBA should limit fans' All-Star votes

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It’s time to call the fans’ All-Star voting what it is: A joke.

Ray Allen did Wednesday night, and I couldn’t agree more.

“I think the fan voting is watered down,” the Celtics star said before Boston played the Nets. “I like the fact that the fans get the opportunity to vote and pick who they’d like to see in the All-Star game. But I don’t think it should be 100 percent.”

Allen, currently fourth among Eastern Conference guards (Allen Iverson is second), said the he favors a system like the one used to selected players to the NFL’s Pro Bowl. In the NFL, votes are split in thirds among players, coaches and fans. Such an arrangement would avoid embarrassments like the one currently under way involving Tracy McGrady, who is second to Kobe Bryant among Western Conference guards even though he isn’t playing for the Rockets.

“The commissioner should put some type of rule in place like you have to play at least so many games to be eligible for the All-Star Game,” Allen said. “Because once you put all the ballots out, you can’t really retrieve them. If Tracy played, I’m sure he’d play well enough to be an All-Star player because he’s done that in his career. But again, that’s taking away from another player in the Western Conference who’s having a good year and has been playing and deserves to be in there.”

The commissioner, in case you haven’t heard, has other problems to deal with at the moment. But while the sanctity of All-Star appearances doesn’t rise to the level of firearms in the locker room, it’s something that will have to be addressed.

The NBA has been on the cutting edge of fan engagement with games available live online, unique content for its 1.7 million Twitter followers, and All-Star voting online and via text messaging. Not to come across as the ugly American, but it’s pretty clear that the expansion of voting globally has skewed the results – and not in a fair or good way.

On Wednesday, the league announced that fans would choose a participant in the All-Star slam dunk contest by voting electronically during a two-player dunk-off at halftime of the Rookie Challenge on Friday night of All-Star weekend.

That’s OK. It’s a dunk contest. But All-Star appearances and starts are still viewed as legitimate accomplishments in a player’s career, and are often cited when a player is inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. If McGrady is voted in as a starter, it’s time to re-evaluate the importance of All-Star appearances, the voting procedure, or both.

Allen said he’d give the fan voting 50 percent of the weight, the players 25 percent, and the media 25 percent in determining the All-Star starters. Coaches would retain the authority to pick the reserves under Allen’s plan

“The players will truthfully know who’s had a truly great first half of the season,” Allen said. “You would have five guys starting for the All-Star team regardless of hype or highlight. You just get guys that had the best first half of the season. … You guy should have a say-so. You’re obviously watching games night in and night out. The players are the ones scouting each other and they know exactly who is beating them every night and who they’re watching on film. So they see everything.”

More than the 746,625 fans who've voted for McGrady, anyway.

Posted on: January 9, 2010 2:26 am
 

The beat goes on in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. – Through it all – the curse of the big men, the seven injured players , Steve Blake’s pneumonia, the gripes from Andre Miller about playing time, and finally Miller’s 30-minute shouting match with coach Nate McMillan – the Trail Blazers keep winning.

Of course they won Friday night, because they were playing the Lakers at the Rose Garden, where they’ve beaten L.A. nine straight times. This time, it was 107-98 in favor of the Blazers, who had rising star Brandon Roy outplay Kobe Bryant and enjoyed a 32-5 advantage from the free-throw line (39-10 in attempts). But the details hardly matter from night to night.

The Blazers are winning – seven of 10 now – with an eight-man rotation that includes rookie Dante Cunningham, who logged 18 minutes against the Lakers. They are winning with a starting center named Juwan Howard, whom I watched play at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., when the Hoosiers hosted Michigan and I was a sophomore at Indiana in 1992. Think about that. Juwan Howard is the Blazers’ starting center, and a capable one at that, with eight points and 10 rebounds Friday night. Juwan Howard was drafted in 1994, the same year as Blazers assistant coach Monty Williams. The same Monty Williams who roams the sideline for McMillan, who sits on the bench with a walking boot because he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon.

“It’s been a crazy year, but I just never really like to look back,” Roy said. “I just say, ‘Let’s keep pushing,’ and I think we’re doing a great job of not looking back.”

How could the year get any crazier after Greg Oden (knee) and Joel Pryzbilla (knee) both were lost for the season, Blake wound up in the hospital with pneumonia, and key rotation players Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, and Travis Outlaw all out for significant time? Miller and McMillan found a way Thursday, getting into a heated argument during practice over various things, including Miller’s mistake of telling Jerryd Bayless to make his second free throw with 4.3 seconds left and the Blazers trailing Memphis by two Tuesday night. McMillan had instructed Bayless to miss the free throw to create a putback opportunity. Miller’s season-long angst over how he’s being used – sometimes not starting games and often not finishing them – erupted.

“That was a situation where I needed to handle that and handle that better than I did,” McMillan said. “We’re past that. We’ve talked and I’ve talked to the team and addressed the team about it.”

Asked about his relationship with Miller, McMillan said, “Let me say this, and I hope you guys write this. Get your pens out. I love my players, OK? And not just current players, but past players, my relationship with my players are important. … I had some say on bringing Andre Miller here and so to bring these guys here and to assume that I have an issue – no, there’s no issue or no problem. … I’m OK with all of my players, so there’s no issues.”

Not on the court, anyway.

The Blazers got 21 points off the bench Friday night from Bayless, who’s been getting Miller’s closing minutes lately. They’re winning with small lineups, did a better job of getting out in transition Friday night, and have fallen back on McMillan’s long-time emphasis on defense – his forte – to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff picture.

“There hasn’t really been a calm moment this season,” Roy said. “But 23-15? We’ll take it.”

Getting by with what they have has done more than create an inspirational story line. It’s reduced anxiety over whether Portland GM Kevin Pritchard needs to give up long-term cap flexibility for the short-term boost he would get from acquiring a big man in a trade.

Pritchard, being one of only a handful of GMs with real cap space, has explored bestowing it on any number of cost-cutting colleagues in exchange for a much needed body – with no takers, yet. But if the Blazers keep playing like this, and if the injuries and other distractions continue to galvanize them, what’s the rush to do a deal?

“It’s kind of a wait and see for us,” McMillan said. “We’re not even at the midway point. We know that we have a long ways to go and a huge challenge ahead of us to go through the remainder of the season without those two big guys.”

Before the game, Lakers coach Phil Jackson bemoaned the Blazers’ epic bad luck with big men and injuries, invoking the names of Sam Bowie and Bill Walton. But there were no ghosts involved in Portland’s latest homecourt mastery over the defending champs.

“They’re extremely well coached,” Bryant said. “They execute everything well. They don’t make mental mistakes, and I think that’s been the key. They’ve been able to adjust their game and adjust the tempo of the game having most of their horses out.”

And somehow, one of the improbable early-season success stories in the NBA gallops on.
Category: NBA
Posted on: December 31, 2009 1:38 pm
 

McGrady on pace to be All-Star starter

Tracy McGrady is a man without a team. Unless you count the Western Conference All-Star team.

When the third returns in the 2010 All-Star balloting were released Thursday, McGrady had passed Steve Nash and moved into second place among Western Conference guards behind Kobe Bryant. Paper balloting will continue until Jan. 10, while wireless and online voting concludes Jan. 18. The All-Star starters will be announced Jan. 21.

Oh, the delicious irony of McGrady starting the All-Star game in the state of Texas while he's gotten himself banished from the Rockets for complaining about playing time. As the New York Times' Jonathan Abrams needled on Twitter, is McGrady going to wear a Rockets jersey, or one from Attack Athletics, the Chicago gym where he trains with Tim Grover?

Should T-Mac somehow hold off far more deserving candidates like Nash, Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Brandon Roy, the best part will be this: The All-Star Game could very well be his last in a Rockets jersey. The game will be played Feb. 14 -- four days before the NBA trade deadline.

If McGrady is voted into the All-Star starting lineup in a season during which he's played all of 46 minutes, should fans be banned from casting All-Star votes? Nah, let the fans have their fun ... the All-Star Game is meant for their entertainment. However, it's worth discussing whether All-Star appearances should be dropped as an official statistic for consideration for such honors as induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame. McGrady starting for the West and Allen Iverson for the East at a time when both are running on fumes would provide plenty of proof that such accolades are meaningless.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com