Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James

Kobe, LeBron all smiles near rivalry's end

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
7:14
AM PT
Holmes By Baxter Holmes
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LeBron JamesHarry How/Getty ImagesLeBron James laughs with Kobe Bryant after a missed dunk in front of J.R. Smith during the first half of the Cavaliers' 109-102 win.
LOS ANGELES -- They started joking back and forth in the second quarter. While one of his teammates shot free throws on one end of the court, LeBron James stood on the other, next to the Lakers' bench, sharing laughs with Kobe Bryant.

They continued yukking it up throughout Thursday night, and after James’ Cavaliers beat Bryant’s Lakers 109-102, the two had a long embrace and more laughs at center court. Then they greeted each other again in the tunnel on their way out of the Staples Center, chatted, hugged and laughed some more.

Although they acted like they were teammates more than opponents, Bryant pointed out after the game that he wasn’t always so friendly with certain members of the opposition, including James.

“It’s a little different now,” Bryant said after scoring 19 points and tallying a career-high 17 assists in the loss. “Some years ago, both competing for championships, it was a little different. It was a lot more moody. Now it’s a little different. I’ve got a chance to really appreciate the competition and enjoy that interaction. We’ve gotten to know each other really well over the years. It’s good to see him.”

James agreed.

“It’s always fun and a pleasure,” the Cavaliers’ star said after scoring a game-high 36 points. “There are two big competitors, and to be on the same court as him, who I looked up to when I was a child, growing up and seeing him go from high school straight into the NBA, you know, it’s fun. It’s great. I hated him being out of the league because of the injury, but it’s fun having him back.”

James added of the matchup, "You don’t take that for granted, for sure. You don’t have many guys that come through this sport like Kobe.”

Bryant, 36, mentioned that he has more perspective at this point, knowing that he doesn’t have much time left in the NBA in general.

“I really won’t get a chance to play against [James] on the court for much longer," Bryant said. "You want to enjoy it.”

Other players seemed to get that sense as well Thursday, even during the course of the game.

“It was great to be a part of it,” said Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, who scored 22 points. “[They are] two great players going at it. I want to be part of that as a competitor. Who knows how long that will last?”

Cavaliers coach David Blatt said he wasn’t thinking about the Bryant-James matchup until after the game.

“Now that I have a chance to reflect a little bit, yes, that’s very special,” Blatt said. “For the fans, for the players that are involved, for all of us, those are two all-time greats going at it and going at it like two prize fighters within the context of the team. ... It’s great to see two guys at that level playing the game at such a level for so many years and still involving their teammates in the way that they did.”

James and Bryant have never squared off in the NBA Finals, and Bryant said he wished that could have happened.

“Absolutely, which makes me appreciate what I grew up watching with Magic [Johnson] and [Larry] Bird,” Bryant said, “because you understand how hard it is to get to those Finals, let alone as a fan, seeing the two best players in the league match up with each other in the Finals over and over. We were just really, really fortunate, all of us, to see that happen. As a player growing up, once you get to that level, you want to have that same kind of rivalry, you know what I mean? It just never happened.”

But if opposing players and coaches are talking about appreciating Bryant, or if television announcers are reminding viewers to do the same during a nationally televised broadcast, as they did Thursday, well, that feels new and just a bit awkward for him.

“This is different for me, man, because I’m used to being hated,” Bryant said. “It’s really unnatural. It’s like, you go up against somebody and they give you a hug -- ‘Wait. What the hell are you doing? You’re supposed to say something nasty.’ It’s a different feeling, but I’m really appreciative of it. It feels good. Getting a hug feels good.”

Heat Read: D'Antoni just what the Heat want in L.A.?

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
1:17
PM PT
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Editor's note: Throughout the 2012-13 NBA season we'll be asking our colleagues at The Heat Index to weigh in on the progress of the Lakers' newly minted super group. This week, Tom Haberstroh wonders whether Mike D'Antoni's style for the Lakers doesn't play right into Miami's hands.

Man, one week can change everything, huh?

Just last week in this space, we were talking about how Mike Brown’s defense would make or break his chances at retaining his Lakers job. Well, apparently the Lakers had seen enough.

Sometime this weekend, little more than one week later, Mike D’Antoni will make his Los Angeles Lakers head-coaching debut. And you can be sure that one team in particular will be watching extra closely: the Miami Heat.

In fact, the Heat will likely be taking notes to see how a potential Finals opponent evolves under its new playcaller on the sidelines.

To be sure, Erik Spoelstra and the Heat have seen plenty of D’Antoni’s offense in action. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh got a firsthand glimpse of D’Antoni’s capabilities when they played on the 2008 Olympic team when D’Antoni was the assistant coach, and the Heat’s trio had a 4-2 record against D’Antoni when he was leading the way for the Knicks.

But that was then and this is now. The Lakers’ star-studded personnel would present a whole new batch of challenges for the Heat in a potential Finals showdown.

Namely, the pick-and-roll will be maximized with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, a pick-and-roll tandem practically built in a basketball lab. Brown had little interest in making this the focal point of the offense. He even joked that the D’Antoni-led Suns never won any titles running it -- never mind Brown has never won a title as head coach, either.

The Lakers emphasizing the pick-and-roll could be a terrifying prospect for the Heat because, when healthy, the Nash and Howard combination could be virtually unstoppable. But it’s the rest of the players on the court who will make it easier for the Heat to play defense. You can watch D’Antoni himself describe how simple and “unguardable” the pick-and-roll can be when it’s executed to perfection.

Here’s the key: the Lakers might not have the personnel to execute it to perfection. That is, if they plan on surrounding Nash and Howard with Metta World Peace, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Which they will.

It might play right into the Heat’s hands in some areas, especially when it comes to Gasol.

Sending the 7-foot Gasol to the corner could mitigate the Lakers’ size advantage over Shane Battier in the paint. If you want to hit the Heat where it hurts, putting Gasol on Battier in the post would accomplish that. But if you send Gasol into the corner, Battier can shade off of Gasol and help out in the pick-and-roll defense without worrying about Gasol.

Remember, Gasol is a career 23 percent 3-point shooter and hasn’t made more than one 3-pointer in four of his past five seasons. As a side note, isn’t it almost a given that a player with Gasol’s shot will make two 3s just by accident?

Gasol could be the X factor against the Heat, but it’s a big question mark how he’ll be used in D’Antoni’s offense. Let’s just say sticking Gasol 25 feet from the basket would make the Heat very happy.

You might ask, how do the Heat generally do in the pick-and-roll? Incredibly well. Another reason D’Antoni’s offense plays right into the hands of the Heat. Last season, Miami ranked second in the league guarding the pick-and-roll ball handler (Nash in the Lakers' case) and fourth in the league when guarding the roll man (Howard), according to Synergy Sports.

It’s all because of Joel Anthony, one of the league’s best pick-and-roll blitzers. Interestingly enough, Anthony hasn’t been able to crack the Heat’s rotation this season, as the Heat have gone all-in with shooters surrounding the Big Three. Anthony? Not a shooter. Not even from 5 feet.

For the Heat, Anthony would be key against the Lakers in any matchup, regular season or postseason. Few players can blow up a pick-and-roll as effectively as Anthony, and he’ll be needed to thwart Nash’s attack. Putting him out on the floor, however, will make the Heat immensely easier to guard. Howard can’t clean up everyone’s mistakes, but with Anthony’s stone hands, Howard won’t sweat it if he has to leave and rescue his perimeter defenders. It’s a classic give-and-take scenario.

It will be a fascinating clash of styles. The Heat will want to go “small” with Battier and spread the floor, but can they get away with Battier guarding Gasol? Can they get away with Bosh defending the pick-and-rolls instead of Anthony? Wouldn’t the Heat rather send the 6-11 Bosh to guard Gasol in the corner so that Bosh can help intercept potential lobs to the paint?

All legitimate questions for Spoelstra and Pat Riley to ponder before the Heat and Lakers first face off on Jan. 17 in a potential Finals preview. In the end, D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll offense will be a scary affair solely because of Howard and Nash. But the Heat have been able to defend it in the past and the Lakers may be leaving money on the table if they don’t surround Howard and Nash with 3-point shooters.

Heat Read: Defense will make or break Mike Brown

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
3:06
PM PT
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Editor's note: Throughout the 2012-13 NBA season we'll be asking our colleagues at The Heat Index to weigh in on the progress of the Lakers' newly minted super group. This week, Brian Windhorst pinpoints the key issue for Lakers head coach Mike Brown. Hint: It's not the Princeton offense.

Here are two conversations with head coaches that put a little perspective on the situation the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in after a 1-4 start.

Early in the 2006-07 season, the Cleveland Cavs were in the midst of a losing skid in which they were struggling mightily to score. After going through a six-game span where they averaged just 84 points, LeBron James and Larry Hughes, then the team’s highest-paid player and second-most vital voice, were openly complaining about coach Mike Brown’s offensive schemes. It was the first serious internal player challenge to Brown as a head coach.

“The way we need to look at it is if we only score 84 points then we need to work hard enough on defense to only give up 83,” Brown said at the time.

This was Brown’s personality and coaching philosophy in a nutshell: Defense always came first and second. Correcting problems always started with focusing on defense, even when the concept seemed irrational. Blame it on Gregg Popovich and the “pound the rock” mantra in San Antonio; Brown pounded that defensive rock.

Later that season the Cavs reached the NBA Finals when they averaged just 87 points in regulation (there was a rather famous double-overtime game that skewed the stats a tad) in the Eastern Conference finals. The Detroit Pistons averaged 83 points.

Fast-forward to this fall and a conversation with Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra during the second day of training camp. The topic was the conference finals series last season with the Boston Celtics when the Heat headed to Boston for Game 6 trailing 3-2 after three consecutive losses.

At the time, Spoelstra struck a confident pose, much as he did in the previous series when the Heat fell down to the Indiana Pacers 2-1 and suffered an injury to Chris Bosh. Spoelstra’s mood was pervasive, the entire Heat team seemed to buy into his lead and never looked worried as it came back to win the series.

“To be honest with you, nothing that we faced in the playoffs last year was as mentally challenging as the year before,” Spoelstra said. “Nothing was like 9-8.”

Put all of that into context with where the Brown-coached Lakers sit now.

At 1-4, their start has been beyond disappointing to those who expected instant greatness with a team stocked with future Hall of Famers. Such expectations -- the Lakers did little to discourage them, Metta World Peace publicly talking about winning 70 games -- after a radical roster overall can be quite taxing. This was a lesson the Heat, themselves a little too quick to assume everything would fall nicely into place, are still obviously harkening back to.

The Heat, as Spoelstra said, still have some scars from the internal and external pressures of starting the 2010-11 season 9-8, culminating in the LeBron James “bump” of Spoelstra during a loss in Dallas. Now the Lakers have a mirror image to examine with Kobe Bryant’s “stare down” of Brown late in Wednesday’s loss in Utah.

Dealing with the pressure to win big fast under heavy national attention while integrating new stars, no matter their experience and skill, is a challenge. It’s not impossible of course. The 2007-08 Celtics started 20-2 in their first season after trading for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The last time a Lakers team experienced such preseason hype was after the arrival of Gary Payton and Karl Malone in 2003 and that squad started 18-3. But as the Heat showed, early success is not to be taken for granted.

There are numerous things dogging the Lakers, and it seems Brown specifically, at the moment. The most frequently cited is the installation of a Princeton-style offense, a decision it should be pointed out that was reached by the organization in full consultation with Bryant before Steve Nash and Dwight Howard were even acquired. There’s also the minutes issue, it’s still early and Nash is hurt but the fact that the aged Lakers have four players in the top 33 in minutes per game thus far is concerning and an indication that Brown is already pressing. Then there’s a constant issue that has been with Brown since his days in Cleveland, which is his ability to command respect when needed.

But the true alarm that has resulted in all the angst around Brown is what’s been happening with the Lakers defensively, that rock that Brown has always relied on. The Lakers are lagging behind badly there and it's removing the safe zone where Brown can usually run. Brown doesn’t seek or get much credit for it, but he has been one the league’s best defensive coaches for the past decade.

For all the talk about Princeton and how it meshes with Bryant, Howard, Nash and Pau Gasol, the Lakers are actually doing OK with the ball. They’re not dominating at that end, and that was indeed the expectation, but they are not struggling. Five games in, they rank fifth in the league in field goal percentage (47 percent) and fifth in the league in offensive efficiency, the number of points they score per 100 possessions (104 currently) and a useful tool for standardizing offensive performance across the league.

There is room for improvement and not having Nash because of his leg injury factors in as well. There have been some calls to abandon the new offense and in all likelihood the Lakers will temper it. Said one league insider: “When they were struggling a bit last year they went to a version of the triangle and it settled things down and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them phase that in again.”

The tale on the defensive end is bleaker and that is where Brown is a fair target. Last season the Lakers had some good defensive numbers, giving up 90 points a game and holding opponents to 41 percent shooting. They slipped a little bit in some of the defensive rankings from Phil Jackson’s final season, but overall they were considered a good defensive team, in keeping with Brown’s reputation.

In the early going this season, however, the Lakers’ defense has been troublesome. They rank 22nd in defensive efficiency, the amount of points they give up per 100 possessions, at 103. They are 19th in defensive field goal percentage at 45 percent. They are 18th in points allowed at 98.8, more than eight more per game than last season.

Among everything that Brown is dealing with, these are the real issues. This is supposed to be Brown’s safety net, the “shrink the floor” help defensive philosophy that he helped make popular in the league. The one he normally drills and drills, obsesses about in preparation and preaches about at length. Right now, it has abandoned the Lakers despite the addition of Howard, the type of athletic basket defender that usually allows all defenders to look better.

If Brown is going to pull the Lakers out of their early-season slump -- and they start a six-game homestand Friday against Golden State that offers opportunity -- it will be here. That is, after all, what got Brown this job, and it will be that defense that will save it or not.

PodKast: On Kobe's team, flopping, and endorsements LeBron doesn't want

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
9:57
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Aaaaaaaaaaand, we're off!

The 2012-13 season kicked off this week with Monday's media day, and overall it's been a good week for the Lakers. Dwight Howard is participating more fully in practice than most expected when the trade came down in early August, raising the odds for an early season, or even an opening night, debut in purple and gold.

Steve Blake, meanwhile, is back on the floor following his parking lot mishap last month, returning in 10 days instead of the three weeks originally projected.

Still, with four All-Stars and a new offense to integrate, questions of chemistry abound and right away headlines were made as Kobe Bryant declared the Lakers "my team" on day 1. The reaction -- in some cases overreaction -- was swift. And that's where we start (after Andy tells a quick story of his airport encounter with his favorite member of the 'What's Happening!!' cast) in the newest podcast.



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We touched on those comments in the latest edition of The Forum, and expand on it here. (3:05) In terms of practical impact on actual basketball games, what does Kobe's declaration actually mean? We asked Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, and Bryant himself at practice this week. (7:45)

We're big on the idea of waiting to see how guys actually play before making judgments, but is there anything Kobe might (realistically) say that should cause genuine concern? (11:45)

The NBA has introduced it's new flopping rules. Good idea or not? Where could the whole thing go goofy? Yes, we all want to punish the bad floppers, but shouldn't the truly outstanding/absurd ones be somehow rewarded? (17:00)

Finally, we find a LeBron James branded product we are absolutely certain LeBron James didn't actually endorse. (22:00)

Mike Brown to the hot seat

August, 22, 2012
8/22/12
9:23
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The 2011-12 season was difficult for the Lakers. Whatever shred of opportunity to properly integrate new systems on both sides of the ball under coach Mike Brown in the wake of the lockout -- and it wasn't much -- evaporated in the fallout of the nixed Chris Paul deal and resulting trade of Lamar Odom. There were huge holes in the roster, from the lack of bench depth to secondary scoring in the backcourt. Ramon Sessions, acquired to shore up the point guard spot, flamed out in the playoffs.

Still, Brown looks back and believes they were capable of a title.

"There might be some people that had an understanding of some of the deficiencies that we (might) have had last year," Brown said in a phone conversation last week, "but I still think at the end of the day with the way we exited and throughout the year with some of the ups and downs we had, yeah (I) didn’t think anything less than that."


Kvork Djansezian/Getty Images
Year 2 of the Mike Brown/Kobe Bryant partnership should be more fruitful than Year 1. If not, conversations about Brown's job will intensify.


Believing your team can win a championship, and accepting no less, is basically woven into the job description of Lakers head coach, something Brown -- an optimistic guy not big on excuses -- fully accepts. Still, rough patches and criticism of his first year notwithstanding, looking back at 78 regular-season and playoff games it's difficult to believe the Lakers were good enough to win a title no matter who coached them, whether Brown or some amalgam of Phil, Pop, Riles, and Red. Neither the eyeball test nor statistics -- based on Basketball Reference's expected wins formula, the Lakers should have won 36 games, not 41 -- suggested otherwise.

Quantifying the impact of a head coach in the NBA has always been a tricky exercise. Good coaching choices pay off, and they fail. Bad ones sometimes prove inconsequential or even look smart based on the results. Quality players and luck can elevate mediocre work on the sidelines and on the practice floor, while poor talent undercuts even the best coaching performances. Coaches can look brilliant one season and incompetent the next as personnel and context changes around them. Last year, in relation to the Lakers' title chances, Brown's role was ultimately moot, because the team had too many holes coaching couldn't fill. In the NBA, talent is primary and the Lakers didn't have enough.

That was then.

The Lakers celebrated the 4th of July by importing Steve Nash from Phoenix, and since have added Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison, and Jodie Meeks, while re-signing Jordan Hill and holding on to Pau Gasol. Debate if you'd like where the offseason leaves L.A. relative to other powerhouses, but one thing is apparent: The Lakers are again elite, and even if locating precisely that line where coaching can be the difference between a title run and disappointment is an impossible task, the Lakers have long crossed it. This team, assembled at great cost both financial (more than $99 million in payroll and counting) and strategic (picks and picks and picks out the door) is rightly expected to do big things.

Brown knows the scrutiny he faced last season is nothing in comparison to what awaits this year, and he's fine with it.

"Everybody says that -- expectations, expectations, pressure, pressure, pressure. Pressure to me occurs if you’re not prepared, and we’ll be prepared. Having said that, I’m telling you this: I don’t think there was anybody last year that said it was ok that we got knocked out in the second round, or that we didn’t win the West," he said. "Our expectation last year was to win a championship. Our expectation this year is to win a championship."

(Read full post)

A purple and gold guide to rooting in the Finals

June, 12, 2012
6/12/12
1:41
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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For any Lakers fan, any NBA finals without the purple and gold is by definition a disappointing series. The Lakers are a franchise that openly cries "championship or bust," and that standard has been enthusiastically adopted by the faithful. Thus, being on the outside looking into a trophy chase always leaves a bitter taste.

However, this particular Finals may really stick in the Laker Nation's craw. The Miami Heat aren't just a super-team distastefully forged, and the Oklahoma City aren't just scary good, scary young and Western conference residents. They both feature foils to the supremacy of Kobe Bryant. LeBron James has long been viewed by Lakers fans as prematurely crowned "King" at Kobe's expense and Dwyane Wade has received favorable Mamba comparisons as well. (That Flash broke Bryant's nose/concussed him during a freakin' All-Star Game doesn't help, either.) In the meantime, Kevin Durant has already lapped Bryant as a scoring machine, but a title could make it impossible to argue, career achievement aside, he hasn't passed Bryant altogether. Thus, either teams basking in championship glory packs a potential double-whammy for Lakers fans.


AP Photo, Getty Images
Unless we're talking Smush, once Lakers, always Lakers, right?

Still, from a pure basketball perspective, this should be a massively entertaining series, and I'd hate to see Lakers fans sulk themselves out of any sense of enjoyment. The solution is to tab one team as the lesser of two evils, then root hard against the other. With that in mind, I'm here to help break some ties.

Pros to the Heat Winning

Ronny Turiaf and Pat Riley, ex-Lakers still held in good esteem amongst the fan base, will get their first and seventh rings respectively.

• Over the last few years, some have questioned James' drive, and whether he's more consumed by his game or brand. Granted, his improved outside shooting and post game have quieted that criticism to some degree. But for those unconvinced, perhaps the championship demons exorcised will result in complacency, along with opportunity knocking for a revamped Laker squad to capitalize.

• Whenever the Heat falter, the rumor mill kicks into overdrive with scenarios bringing Dwight Howard to South Beach. Obviously, all gossip must be treated with a grain of salt, but it stands to reason a title decreases the odds of Miami dealing for Superman, which keeps hope alive for an L.A. landing.

• Realistically speaking, the odds favor this bunch winning one title. I mean, let's just be honest. So if they are destined to break through, it might as well happen during an "asterisk" season, right? With any luck, that will be the only "Heatle" title, and their time together will carry as little gravitas as possible.

• For that matter, they Heat would also win without having to go through either Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard in the East. Let the discrediting process begin!

• Despite logging just 83 minutes in the regular season and (likely) none in the postseason, Eddy Curry will get a ring, making Kwame Brown the lone member of the Brown-Curry-Tyson Chandler "straight from high school into the 2001 NBA lottery" trio without a championship. And Laker fans never tire of jokes at Kwame's expense.

• The Heat knocked Boston out of the playoffs the last two seasons, which didn't just allow Lakers fans to rejoice, but also prevented the Pierce-KG-Allen Celts from tying or even besting the title count of the Kobe-Gasol Lakers. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the old saying goes.

• South Beach + June weather + championship parade = wall-to-wall eye candy. And this celebration will be televised. I'm just sayin'.

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Lakers at Heat: What to watch with Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index

January, 19, 2012
1/19/12
8:33
AM PT
By the Kamenetzky brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The first meeting between these teams last season was met with enough hype to make P.T. Barnum blush. (It was also met with enough purple and gold lethargy to make a Lakers fan lose his Christmas brunch.) One year -- and two similarly disappointing series against the Dallas Mavericks -- later, and the setting has changed. The Lakers are trying to prove that a championship pedigree still exists, while the Heat are trying to prove their pedigree is matched by a championship heart. A win in AmericanAirlines Arena would help re-establish the Lakers' credibility, and a win with Dwyane Wade possible in street clothes would be a meaningful one for the Heat.


Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
It's a shame this game doesn't feature much in the way of star power.


For a look inside Thursday's extravaganza, we talked some shop with Tom Haberstroh, who covers the Big Three & Co. for the Heat Index.

Brian Kamenetzky: Is Wade going to play Thursday?

Tom Haberstroh: I'd bet my authentic Drazen Petrovic jersey that Wade is not going to play. All the players at Wednesday's practice spoke as if he was already ruled out. Erik Spoelstra called him "day-to-day," which has been his status for a couple weeks now.

BK: So what does that mean? They're like Tim Tebow without him. All they do is win. Or at least like pre-losing Tebow.

TH: This is a great point. Maybe we have to look into this a little more, because LeBron made some Tebow comments before the game that Wade got hurt in ... Conspiracy! Wade being out means that LeBron James and Chris Bosh get to go back to their Cleveland and Toronto days, respectively. You saw the free-wheeling attitude Tuesday against the Spurs.

But I should add -- 4-0 does NOT mean that they're better without Wade. Bosh and LeBron are better without Wade, but the Heat are not better. Need to put this meme to bed.

Andy Kamenetzky: Kinda like the meme people throw out whenever the Lakers happen to win a game without Kobe. Having said that, how much confusion still lingers between LeBron and Wade in terms of co-existence?

TH: They're worlds better than they were Jan. 19, 2011, but they still have a way to go. I'm still clamoring for more Wade/LeBron pick-and-rolls, but something tells me Spoelstra is keeping that trick up his sleeve for the playoffs. But I think it's no secret that they need to create more actions where each of the Big Three are moving together, not just LeBron and Wade.

Of course, it makes it tough when Wade is in street clothes with a canary-yellow diamond in his ear weighing him down.

(Read full post)

The McTen: Gasol's dagger 3 jolts Jazz

January, 11, 2012
1/11/12
11:51
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Pau Gasol AP Photo/Jim Urquhart Pau Gasol's 3-pointer in overtime proved to be one of the keys down the stretch for the Lakers.

Here are your 10 additional things to take away from the Lakers' 90-87 overtime road win against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday ...

1
At 7 feet, 250 pounds and one of a dying breed of true back-to-the-basket post players in the league, Pau Gasol has been relegated to the paint for most of his 11-year career.

When he dared dabble out on the perimeter the results haven't been pretty. Sure, he proved he could hit a 3-pointer in a pressure-cooker situation with that triple he connected on in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the first round against New Orleans last spring, but he also infamously missed a potential winning 3-pointer at the buzzer that Phil Jackson had drawn up for him in a game against Portland a few seasons back and had just a 19-for-88 career mark from downtown.

That all went out the window with 2:02 remaining in OT Wednesday when Kobe Bryant sucked in the defense at passed out to a wide-open Gasol who was parked in the corner and calmly splashed the 3 to turn a two-point deficit into a one-point lead for L.A.

"I’m just glad that he found me and I was [shooting] with confidence and I practiced that shot enough that I can make it," said Gasol who had hit a 3-pointer in the preseason against the Clippers but started off the regular season 0-for-3 from deep. "I was also happy that I made it because I did not have a good game overall, so it was a big play for the team to make and I was happy I was able to score and knock it down basically."

Gasol finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, but had five turnovers, including two early in the extra period that led to the Jazz opening up a four-point lead.

Lakers coach Mike Brown said Gasol has "a green light to shoot the 3," and added, "as you could tell, guys trust him [shooting it]," but it wasn't such and easy decision for Bryant to cough it up.

"Coach [John] Kuester’s been urging me to trust him at the 3-point line, because he’s statistically one of our better 3-point shooters in practice and I decided to kick it to him and he knocked it down," Bryant said. "I thought about it [for what] seemed like an eternity and I thought, ‘What the hell.’"

After the pass, Bryant's thoughts shifted to the heavens.

"If you think [Tim] Tebow prays, when that ball left his hands I must have said 30 Hail Mary’s in 10 seconds," Bryant said.

Gasol made it clear that he's not going to go all Dirk Nowitzki all of the sudden and start using his 7-foot frame to launch from beyond the arc with regularity, but he said he wants to test his range from game to game to see if he's feeling it from deep on that particular night.

"That won’t be the focus of my game, at all," Gasol said. "It will just be another weapon, another thing to add up to it."

Brown seems to be endorsing the option.

"He can shoot that thing," Brown said. "He can shoot it very well."

(Read full post)


AP Photo
All three are legends, but only two boast a true rival.

The death of heavyweight legend Joe Frazier has naturally prompted considerable conversation about Muhammad Ali. Intense rivals, the two fought on three occasions, the first a victory for Frazier, and each match is regarded as a classic. The barbs Ali tossed at Frazier were outside the lines and below the belt. Ali's presence overshadowed Frazier's, but ultimately help create a foundation for the latter's legacy. They are permanently intertwined.

Monday also marked the 20th anniversary of Magic Johnson's HIV press conference, and while the remembrance of this milestone obviously didn't center around a rivalry with Larry Bird, that chapter of Magic's life also wasn't ignored. We've been reminded of how Magic selected few friends to learn about his situation from him rather than the media, Bird among them. Plus, HIV prompted his retirement, which in turn prompted reflection, and it's impossible to remember Magic's career without Bird entering the picture. The two are synonymous, which added a wonderful layer to an already iconic story.

Thinking about Frazier/Ali and Magic/Bird, I was reminded of how Kobe Bryant, despite 15 unforgettable seasons under his belt, never really enjoyed a legitimate rivalry. Unless you count the one with Shaq, but that hardly qualifies in this context. As teammates, their quarrels were depressing and counterproductive, even acknowledging the championships. As ex-teammates, the war of words has largely been one-sided, with Shaq dragging himself through the mud by refusing to let go. Either way, it's hardly been inspirational.

From there, it's hard to peg exactly who Kobe's rival would be.

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Magic Provides a Reminder of LeBron's Immediate Future

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
10:34
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Should a television studio ever give Magic Johnson another shot at late night host (and if so, please call the show "The Magic Hour II: More Magic"), the Hall of Famer already has his jokes stockpiled.

Exhibit A came during a speech last Saturday at the University of Albany. When asked what he hopes will be the most lasting aspect of his legacy, Magic cited his impact on various downtrodden areas of L.A., then casually tossed in a zing at a certain NBA superstar.

"That's easy: Putting people to work in minority communities. There's going to always be great players in basketball. There's going to always be guys who win championships in the NBA, except LeBron..."

After laughing and telling the crowd "don't be mad," Johnson threw Kobe Bryant into the mix at LeBron's expense.

"Everybody's always asking, 'Who is better between Kobe and LeBron?' I'm like, Are you kidding me? I'm like you're kidding me ... Kobe, five championships; LeBron, zero."

After getting more laughs by promising James would "get better in the fourth quarter this year," Magic did note he's not "hating on LeBron." He "loves the young man" and considers him a "triple-double threat every single game."

Of course, that fish residing in a barrel had already been shot by then.

Less than 48 hours removed from "Kobe-only-7th-in-#NBArank-Gate," -- which prompted 750+ (and counting) comments largely devoted to "Kobe vs. LeBron" -- there's no need to regurgitate this debate. (And as I've noted on more than one occasion, I get bored by "Compare Kobe to Player X.") Besides, there's a bigger takeaway from Magic's comments than his endorsement of Bryant. It's his willingness to take unsolicited pokes at LeBron and the knowledge those cracks will be crowd-pleasers anywhere outside of South Beach.

Magic gave the people what they wanted, which these days are jokes at LeBron's expense. And that must be getting old for Ohio's former hero. Yes, LeBron's recent McDonalds commercial demonstrates how The King isn't above playing Jester with a finger pointed in his own direction. (It's actually a great way for LBJ to repair his image.) However, self-deprecating humor isn't the same thing as being the butt of the joke, which LeBron now regularly is. If Magic sincerely meant these remarks as friendly cracks, he's in the minority. For most taking shots, the barbs are meant to pierce.

Back in September, I noted how no player stood to lose more in the event of a canceled season than LeBron, and it was precisely for this reason. The longer we go without basketball, the longer LeBron's persona as a super-gifted, mentally-flawed athlete is allowed to fester. Not to mention, he gets one fewer shot at the championship necessary to stifle some critics, if not shut them up the entire lot of them.

For the time being, Magic's speech is a microcosm of LeBron's existence. Until we're back on the court, James will have no choice but to sit back and take it.

Beating the Heat doesn't mean being the Heat

June, 12, 2011
6/12/11
9:08
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
From the moment the SuperTeam! formed last summer in Miami, the NBA locked into an arms race for the finite pool of elite-level talent. Old-fashioned, garden-variety, championship-caliber teams weren't enough anymore. Either a roster could be punctuated with an !, or it wasn't good enough. The drumbeat grew louder in the moments where the Heat dominated. By the time they rolled through Boston and Chicago to win the Eastern Conference, among many the thinking had coalesced.


Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Rick Carlisle applauds not just because Dirk has been awesome, but because he's shown the future isn't just about SuperTeam!s.

Beating the Heat means bringing three superstars to the table, preferably in the prime of their careers. Loosely translated, you can't beat 'em if you don't join 'em.

Then again, maybe not.

While most of the focus throughout the Finals has been on the shortcomings of LeBron James and where the Heat have gone wrong, the Mavs have proven themselves every bit the equal of Miami (actually, one game better). This despite having only one superstar (Dirk Nowitzki) surrounded by a variety of very talented-but-sub-elite teammates (Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler) and even rolier role players (J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson), with arguably their second best player (Caron Butler) in street clothes.

The Heat are undeniably skilled and capable of overwhelming teams for stretches, but their star pieces aren't a natural fit and they aren't without flaws, starting with a fourth quarter offense that will make your eyes bleed. Dallas has a collection of lesser level talent, but parts complementing each other far better and playing well at a very opportune time.

It works. Ask the Blazers, Lakers and Thunder.

Regardless of how the Finals play out, the Mavs have blown a massive hole in the notion the only way to compete with Miami now and down the line is to go superstar-for-superstar. A well-constructed, well-coached, poised, balanced team is capable of beating them in a seven game series. For those like me who believe the Lakers require targeted improvements and a generous refill on their motivation tank to be serious title contenders next year, it says the season need not hinge on somehow prying Dwight Howard from Orlando, Deron Williams from New Jersey, or Chris Paul from New Orleans.

Fortunate, because if it did we'd all be out of luck.

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The McTen: Cleveland Rocked

January, 12, 2011
1/12/11
12:14
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Here are your 10 additional things to take away from the Lakers' 112-57 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday ...

1

Perhaps he did it because he really felt his team could use some extra motivation to avoid losing to a sub-.500 team at home the way it did against Indiana, Milwaukee and Memphis earlier on in the season.

Or perhaps he did it just because as head coach, you're supposed to do something to motivate your players regardless if your team is the back-to-back NBA champion and your opponent is coming into the game having lost 20 of 21 games and 10 straight.

So Phil Jackson took the cap off his dry erase marker and did a bit of coaching.

"On the board this morning I put on what our record is against them the last three years -- 1-5," Jackson said.

Never mind that the Lakers are actually 2-4 against the Cavs over the past three seasons; something clicked for the Lakers as they came out energized from the opening tip and executed possession after possession, quarter after quarter, until the final buzzer sounded and they could admire their work on the scoreboard: 112-57.

The 57 points the Lakers held the Cavaliers to was a franchise record for fewest points allowed since the shot-clock era began in 1954-55. The 55-point margin of victory was the third-largest in team history and dwarfed those losses they had to Cleveland in the past three seasons, as those four came by a combined 28 points.

A game after holding New York under 90 points and under 40 percent shooting from the field, the Lakers' revamped defense held Cleveland under 60 points and under 30 percent shooting (23-of-77 -- 29.9 percent).

"This is what hard work does," Kobe Bryant said. "We’ve really been focused on the defensive end and we’ve been getting better game by game."

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The McTen: Portland? More Like Shortland

November, 8, 2010
11/08/10
8:14
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Here are your 10 additional things to take away from the Lakers' 121-96 win over the Trail Blazers Sunday:

1. Back in April 2009, the Houston Rockets were playing the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs and it was Ron Artest's job to try to stop Brandon Roy.

Houston won the series in six games, but the beginning didn't go so well as Roy scored 21 in Game 1 and then 42 in Game 2 to earn a 1-1 split.

After taking a 40-spot on the chin, Artest told TNT's Craig Sager: "Roy's probably the best player I ever played against. To me, he's the best shooting guard ..."

When Sager followed up by asking pointedly if Roy was better than Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, Artest only reiterated his statement, repeating, "He's the best player I've played against."

Artest got to tangle with the best he's ever faced again Sunday and either he played one of the best defensive games of his life or something's not quite right with Roy. The 6-6 guard came into the game averaging 22 points a night but was held to just eight points on 1-for-6 shooting from the field, and four of those points came when Artest was out of the game. In fact, when Artest checked out with 2:08 remaining in the second quarter, Roy had zero points. Some chest-puffing is in order when you hold the best player you've ever played against scoreless for a half, right?

Jayne Oncea/US Presswire
Artest considers Brandon Roy the toughest guard in the NBA to defend.



"I want to keep my mouth shut," Artest said after the game. "I'm not saying nothing. I'm not touching that subject right there. I want to say some funny, stupid stuff, but I'm just not doing that today."

Maybe he didn't want to brag about beating a player who wasn't 100 percent.

"I think he was hurt," Artest later said. "Back, or knee or something. He wasn't himself. I've played against Brandon Roy a lot of times. He wasn't himself."

Phil Jackson wouldn't totally credit Ron's defense for the Roy disappearance either.

"I'm not sure that's all our making," Jackson said. "He looked to me like he was not ready to attack as much as he normally is. It looked to me like he was a little bit hesitant out there."

Artest's teammates were more generous with praise than PJ was. Bryant said, "Ron was ready to go, he took it as a challenge to get after him so I think individually he did a great job," while Pau Gasol said "[Ron] set the tone for us as a team."

Roy could have just been fatigued after playing 37 minutes on Saturday night. Then again, he's only six months removed from knee surgery that limited him to averages of 9.7 points on 30.3 percent shooting in the Blazers' first-round exit from the playoffs last spring.

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PodKast: On Kobe Bryant and LeBron James with GQ's J.R. Moehringer

August, 28, 2010
8/28/10
10:37
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Comparisons between the two are ubiquitous to the point I'm always hesitant to put Kobe Bryant and LeBron James together in any discussion. Beyond the overkill, in sports, like politics, people tend to react viscerally rather than thoughtfully to any conversation including the pair. Still, we're talking about the two best players in the NBA, each transcendent in his sport for a number of reasons. And while I, like a lot of people, have been completely turned off by LeBron this summer (a process that started over the last couple seasons, actually), if he were a character in a novel, the events of the past weeks, with so much speculation about his nature as a player and person, would make his story more interesting.

And Lord knows Kobe's narrative is pretty compelling.

PODCAST
Brian investigates the Summer of LeBron and its backlash, why LBJ ended up in South Beach, the evolution and redemption of Kobe Bryant, and the potential legacies for both with J.R. Moehringer, author of features on both superstars for GQ Magazine.

PODCAST
Putting the two of them together is basically unavoidable, so to do so in a thoughtful way is always appealing. I had the chance to do just that Friday afternoon in an extended conversation with writer J.R. Moehringer, who for GQ profiled Kobe back in March and this month authored the magazine's cover story on LeBron entitled "Three Weeks in Crazyville."

We covered a range of topics, from the process that led to "The Decision" and its horrendous execution (Moehringer was at the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich that night, and said the trainwreck of a TV show wasn't half as uncomfortable as the atmosphere in the building), and Moehringer's interesting take on what LeBron was looking for in Miami (at approximately the 9:50 mark). We compare the personalities of Bryant and James, as well as the influences each had from as young players in the league (14:20), and what about Kobe's career arc could be instructive for James (22:00).

Approximately 30 minutes in, Moehringer and I discuss Kobe's moment of vulnerability after Game 7 of last season's Finals, and how compelling it will be to watch him play out this chapter in his career, still with gas left in the tank but far closer to the end than the beginning.

In some things we agree ("Twilight Kobe" is going to be completely fascinating), in others we don't (I think he's a little too easy on LBJ at times), but Moehringer has great insight and perspective, and it's refreshing to have a conversation about these two guys that doesn't involve yelling.

Click below for a few excerpts...

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LeBron's days of misdirection are now over

July, 8, 2010
7/08/10
12:55
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Online Dictionary defines "misdirection" as "the act of distracting; drawing someone's attention away from something." The idea is to push focus in one direction long enough to pull off an act otherwise impossible under a steady watch.

Magicians, for example, create just enough spectacle to shove the proverbial rabbit inside the hat on the sly. Attention is fixated on the right hand, leaving the southpaw to sneak around undetected. Over the years, as the scale of tricks have increased, so has the misdirection. Eye-popping visuals and stages littered with set pieces have become commonplace as increasingly smarter audiences are being fooled. Bells and whistles in the name of entertainment, but also a conscious effort to cover up what's right in front of people.

Icon SMI

Chalk may still get in our eyes, but we can see things more clearly now with LeBron.



LeBron James is not a magician by trade, but he's definitely been a man of spectacle and entertainment. Tossing around chalk dust before games. Sideline skits with teammates. A subscriber to the idea of bigger being better. He's also been a consistent practitioner of misdirection over the last few years. His sleight of hand has commonly been referred to as "Summer 2010," and its ensuing hype has been the most effective misdirection this side of Houdini, along with the most overlooked element since James began teasing us with the proposition of leaving Cleveland.

For LeBron, 2-3 years' worth of impending free agency hoopla has been about more than just gluing himself to the forefront of the sports world's consciousness. About marketing his "brand." About ego out of control. At times, it hasn't been about much more, the most glaring example being "The Decision," tonight's farcical press conference announcing where he'll play next season. An hour devoted towards what can be comprehensively explained in 15 minutes tops, unless the destination happens to be the Timberwolves.

It's an exercise in laughable and potentially cruel excess, driving home in embarrassing fashion how no amount of spotlight is enough for LeBron.

Still, even acknowledging this insatiable craving, the constant reminders of a possible departure haven't served just to hog attention away from LBJ's fellow NBA superstars. There's been an additional -- in many ways, more important -- byproduct. This (previously) never-ending soap opera has conveniently doubled as a compelling distraction from an inconvenient truth:

LeBron hasn't won anything yet, and he's moved steadily further away from that critical goal.

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SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
22.3 5.6 1.3 34.5
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.1
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsR. Price 1.5
BlocksE. Davis 1.1