Los Angeles Lakers: Paul Pierce

Pierce: Kobe a 'basketball serial killer'

January, 11, 2015
Jan 11
Holmes By Baxter Holmes
Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images
Paul Pierce called Kobe Bryant one of the five toughest players he has ever defended and described the longtime Lakers star as "a basketball serial killer."

Pierce, now in his 17th NBA season, made his comments about Bryant in a first-person article for The Players' Tribune that was published last week. The other four players that Pierce listed as the toughest he has defended: Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

"[Bryant's] mentality -- his killer instinct -- is what separates him from the other guys on this list, because once Kobe knows he has you, he’s going to keep attacking you," Pierce wrote. "He’ll throw you down, beat you up and even when you’re knocked out, he’ll keep hitting you."

Bryant, now in his 19th season with the Lakers, and Pierce have battled twice in the NBA Finals, with Pierce's Boston Celtics winning in 2008 and Bryant's Lakers winning in 2010.

"One of the toughest games I remember playing against Kobe happened in Boston," Pierce wrote. "I think he made seven or eight shots in a row on me. So we come into the huddle during a timeout and Coach is looking at me with a face that I knew meant he wanted me to switch off of Kobe. And the rest of the guys on the team could see what was happening and they were looking at me too. Finally they bring up that maybe we should switch and put a different guy on him, and I yelled, 'Hell no! I’m going to guard him! I got this!'

"He ended up missing the last nine shots of that game with me on him, and we won. But the stat sheet is still vivid in my mind. Kobe took 47 shots. Forty-seven. No one has ever taken 47 shots on me. Most games a team will get up 81 to 89 shots.

"What you have to understand about Kobe’s game is that by taking that many shots, he’s meticulously wearing down the defender until he breaks them. He’s made a career out of making guys lose confidence in their defense and then continuing to attack them. He’s won five rings doing that."

Rapid Reaction: Celtics 116, Lakers 95

February, 7, 2013
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin

BOSTON -- A couple of Lakers players' nicknames seriously need to be called into question after this one.

So much for the "Magic Mamba" moniker the pass-happy Kobe Bryant has picked up in recent weeks.

Bryant, who had amassed 75 assists in his last seven games to pick up the nickname, finished with zero assists to go with his 27 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes on Thursday.

And so long to the "Superman" pseudonym by which Dwight Howard has been known for so long.

Howard, who played for the first time in four games after aggravating the torn labrum in his right shoulder at the start of the Lakers' seven-game trip, had just nine points and nine rebounds while shooting 1-for-6 from the free throw line in 28 minutes before fouling out Thursday night. Those numbers were nearly equaled by Boston backup big Chris Wilcox (eight points, nine rebounds), and nobody is calling him Superman. In fact, when I tweeted that Wilcox was playing in the game, several people hit me up on Twitter surprised that he was even still in the league.

The loss can't be put on just Kobe Bryant and Howard, of course. The Lakers' defense gave up a ridiculous 116 points to a Celtics team that had just played the night before on the road in Toronto. The Lakers missed 12 free throws as a team. Other than Bryant and Howard, the Lakers shot just 23-for-64 (35.9 percent) from the floor.

How it happened: Howard's return didn't give the team the type of boost right from the start that it was hoping for in Pau Gasol's absence. The Lakers trailed by four at the end of the first quarter and 14 at the half, as both their offense (just 37.8 percent shooting as a team overall, not to mention going 2-for-12 from 3 and 8-for-18 from the free throw line) and their defense (allowing Boston to shoot 51.1 percent as a team) struggled mightily in the first half. It didn't get any better after halftime.

The Celtics used a flurry of fast-break points and 3-pointers to break the game wide open and take a 26-point lead into the fourth. Boston shot 16-for-21 (76.2 percent) in the third quarter and scored 37 points in the period to run away with it.

What it means: All the good feeling from the Lakers' winning six out of seven games is gone, and reality is creeping in for a 23-27 Lakers team that will be without Gasol for a minimum of six to eight weeks, according to the team. The hard work is still ahead of the Lakers if they're going to pull off this improbable playoff push.

Hits: Bryant shot 9-for-15 from the field. After that? Umm …

Misses: The Celtics outscored the Lakers 58-36 in the paint.

The Celtics outscored the Lakers 22-4 in fast-break points.

The Lakers' biggest lead was one point. The Celtics' biggest lead was 32.

Devin Ebanks ended his string of 13 straight DNP-CDs only to go 2-for-6 from the field in five minutes in the fourth.

Stat of the night: Kevin Garnett (15 points) became just the 16th player in NBA history to score 25,000 career points, passing the milestone in the first half.

What's next: The Lakers will escape the major snowstorm set to blanket Boston with up to 2 feet of snow Friday afternoon by flying to Charlotte late Thursday night. (We'll see whether we beat writers are as lucky with getting out of Beantown on Friday morning.) The Lakers play the Bobcats in Charlotte on the second night of a back-to-back Friday, and while they've done OK this season on the second night of back-to-backs on the road (3-2), they are just 2-5 all time on the road against the Bobcats. Then, they finish up their road trip Sunday in Miami.

Lakers vs. Celtics: What to watch with ESPN Boston

March, 10, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky

While the Lakers have performed at least a little better on the court than their shamrocked enemies from the east, the basic narratives surrounding both teams are similar. Aging squads clinging like kittens on tree branches to championship relevance while all sorts of pre-deadline rumors swirl around their big stars, putting into serious question the future of their current ring bearing cores.

David Butler II/US Presswire
Andrew Bynum has been on a roll. Can he keep it up against a stiff Boston D?

Still, just as it was when the teams met this year in Boston, a Lakers/Celtics matchup brings the sort of intensity out of both teams reminding everyone why, even if both squads need a little polish to get back to the top, we still pay close attention when they're on the floor together. Certainly until the cast of characters changes significantly, at least.

To get a little more insight on where things stand with the C's, we caught up with our man Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston, who was kind enough to step away from a family vacation (seriously!) to answer a few questions:

Q: The Celtics still get it done defensively (3rd in efficiency) but the offense has fallen off a cliff (25th), even relative to what's gone on with the Lakers. What accounts for their struggles?

Forsberg: As you'd expect from an aging team, the pace of play has dipped (even Rajon Rondo can't get these guys to run often) and Boston's pace has bogged down a full possession per game since its championship season. The bigger problems are that Boston (1) turns the ball over at an alarming rate, (2) doesn't rebound particularly well at either end of the floor, and (3) settles for an insane amount of jump shots (all signs of an aging team). The result? A Celtics squad that averaged 100.5 points per game in their title campaign is now averaging a mere 90.5 points per game this season. We see occasional bursts of life, particularly when Rondo fuels them, but if jump shots aren't falling, this team really struggles to put points on the board because they don't typically generate easy buckets.

Q: How real are the Rajon Rondo trade discussions? Can you explain the persistent chatter surrounding him? On an aging team, he seems like the one guy you'd want to build around.

Forsberg: The Rondo trade chatter was very real in the preseason when the team tried to pry Chris Paul from New Orleans. Even when we heard rumors about Rondo being offered to another team, it was always with the goal of obtaining the pieces necessary to land Paul, who was the only endgame for Danny Ainge. Ever since? I'm sure Ainge is listening, but the Celtics understand his value. He's not going anywhere without an elite cornerstone coming back to Boston and that's unlikely to happen at the deadline. Is he a stubborn kid? Sure, but what superstar doesn't have his flaws? When he's engaged, he's one of the best at his position.

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Rapid Reaction: Lakers 88, Celtics 87 (OT)

February, 9, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
It wasn't easy (when is it easy in Boston?) but as they did in Denver against a high quality Nuggets team, the Los Angeles Lakers again dug deep to beat a heretofore hot Boston Celtics squad Thursday night in overtime.

With the win, the Lakers now have a great shot at finishing the trip at a strong 4-2. Here are five takeaways:

1. The big three were big.

AP David Butler II/US Presswire
The long arms of Pau Gasol helped swing the game for the Lakers Thursday in Boston.

Kobe Bryant was a catalyst for his teammates early, moving the ball well and providing opportunities around the floor. When he did start shooting, Bryant made each of his first four attempts, and after a lull in the middle of the game got things going. In the third, he beat Ray Allen (and others) on a wicked step through in the paint, then canned a couple J's off the mid-post against Allen. Later, he made a nice one-dribble move on Mickael Pietrus. Overall, he finished 11-of-24 for 27 points, along with four assists and five boards. Against a Boston team that loves to bait opponents into low percentage plays, Bryant played a very controlled game.

He certainly pulled his weight, but when support was needed or the shots didn't fall, Bryant was picked up by the other two members of L.A.'s triumvirate.

Pau Gasol was huge, playing an excellent floor game providing all the scoring, facilitating and rebounding the Lakers need from him. On the night he was officially left off this season's All-Star team, Gasol turned in one of his best games of the season. He put the ball on the floor effectively, showed some good footwork in the post, and made some excellent passes as well. Then there were three key second-half putbacks, including one that tied the game at 82 with only 8.2 seconds remaining. Save a couple truly horrible decisions early, leading to turnovers and opportunities for the home team, Gasol was on point.

Defensively, Gasol was big against Kevin Garnett, who basically disappeared as the game went on, then saved the game by blocking Allen at the buzzer on what would have been a game-winning putback off a Paul Pierce miss. Gasol finished with 25 points (12-for-20), plus 14 rebounds, three dimes and that one massive swat.

Andrew Bynum struggled from the floor, making only six of his 15 shots, but he was a beast on the boards (17) and produced three huge plays on the offensive glass. The first two produced and-1 opportunities at the end of the first half off a miss from Bryant, then again in the fourth off a corner 3-pointer from Gasol. In OT, Bynum tipped in a Bryant miss to give the Lakers a late lead. Add in three blocks, and you get the sort of game people want from Bynum, in which he doesn't let problems putting the ball in the hoop prevent him from working hard in other areas.

Games like this point more to problems with the rest of the roster than they do the Lakers' big three. Asking more against a high-end team like Boston simply isn't realistic. On Thursday night, it was just enough to get it done.

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Lakers at Celtics: What to watch, with ESPN Boston

February, 9, 2012
By The Kamenetzky brothers

Just two seasons ago, the Lakers and Celtics battled for the NBA championship in a seven-game series for the ages. They meet Thursday as squads good enough to be taken seriously, but because both are old and flawed, they are widely regarded as outsiders looking into the 2012 title chase. However, neither team seems ready to pack up the tents. And even if they were, there's enough bad blood remaining from a split pair of Finals ('08 and '10) to guarantee a spirited battle.

Along with ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg, we pondered three questions heading into this game.

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
It's always interesting when these chums meet up.

1. What matchup are you most looking forward to seeing?

Chris Forsberg: Kobe Bryant vs. Mickael Pietrus: We sorta know how the starters match up, so I'm interested to see if Pietrus can be a Tony Allen-like Kobe stopper off the bench. Pietrus has been spectacular since being picked up on Christmas Eve after the Suns released him. And Pietrus supposedly said this summer that Bryant wanted him on the Lakers. (Runner-up: Troy Murphy vs. Anybody. Really, he's one of the Lakers' top reserves this season?!)

Andy Kamenetzky: Paul Pierce vs. Metta World Peace. There have been signs that MWP is rediscovering his defensive mojo. Most recently in Denver, he did the lion's share of the work in limiting Danilo Gallinari to just six points. Of course, there are still games where his defense is as ineffective as his offense, which renders MWP a total nonfactor. The Lakers need Paul Pierce kept in check, and much of that responsibility falls on MWP. We'll see if he's up for the task against a potential All-Star.

Brian Kamenetzky: Pau Gasol vs. Kevin Garnett. Pau’s output against what will surely be an extra yappy, extra chest-puffy KG will get the attention, and Gasol needs to produce more efficiently (eight of last 12 games with FG% at 45 or below). If he doesn’t, L.A. will have to find alternative options against a top-end defensive squad. Meanwhile, Garnett’s scoring has picked up, but Gasol has held opposing PFs to a respectable PER (14). If one goes off at the expense of the other, a victory for his team is highly likely.

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"The L.A. in my Game," with Baron Davis, Part II

November, 9, 2011
By The Kamenetzky Brothers
As part of a continuing series, NBA players share how growing up in L.A. shaped their games.

We bring you the second part of our interview with Baron Davis, the NBA player we feel most epitomizes "L.A." Between his upbringing with roots in South Central and Santa Monica, plus an eye fixed on Hollywood and the next generation of ballers, Los Angeles remains a huge part of Davis' identity. In part I, he talked about learning the game as a child, the influence of his family and neighborhood and how he arrived at the prestigious Crossroads School. In part II, the L.A. journey continues.

Land O' Lakers: During your senior year, Crossroads won the state title by absolutely destroying Sacramento Encina 93-57. How did such a lopsided win happen?

BD: In high school, we were good. [And] they were a real challenging team. So when we run out for the warm-ups, they were looking at us, like, laughing! Like we were a joke. I think they were a tougher team. I don't know what neighborhood they were from, but they d--- sure acted like it. They were just shaking their heads, like, "C'mon, dude! This is Crossroads? Which one is Baron Davis? Are you serious?"

Kris Connor/Getty Images
Before working on movies together, Cash Warren and Baron Davis led Crossroads to a state title.

I was like, "Dude, we're about to beat the s--- out of you. You have no idea what's about to happen." (laughs)

That was the best game we played as a team and that was probably the best all-around game I ever played at the school. I think I was the second- or third-leading scorer of the game. The guys that were seniors, myself, Cash Warren, LeQuan Tolbert, it was our last time knowing we'll ever play with each other. So it was like, once again, somebody is underestimating us, let's go smack them in the mouth one more time.

And we had lost in the semifinals [the year before]. We were so hungry it was crazy. That's why we beat them by [46]. We were throwing the ball off the backboard by the end of the game. We were so afraid to lose. There was 10 seconds left in the game, we were still pressing and laying the ball up. It was crazy.

Land O' Lakers: You guys had already beaten Christ the King and some other great schools across the country.

BD: We beat Christ the King. We beat Simon Gratz. We beat Inglewood. We lost, I think, to Mount Zion, we lost to Dominguez at Dominguez, Crenshaw at Crenshaw. When we lost to Dominguez, they were No. 1 in the country. When we lost to Mount Zion, they were No. 1 in the country. And going to Crenshaw thinking you were gonna get a victory, you have a whole other thing coming.

We were up 20 going into the fourth at Crenshaw. Then all these [Crips] came in the gym and I just felt real uncomfortable. (laughs) The thing about Crenshaw, they never stopped playing. They were like Golden State -- no lead was too big for them to overcome. And we were playing in their house. And once the Crips walked in, it was like a whole different thing with me. It was like … OK … uh … where are my homeboys at? I was a little distracted at the time.

If you put that in the article, the dudes who were standing on that wall, they know what I'm talking about. They'll read that and laugh, I guarantee.

Land O' Lakers: Is that why the Crips were there? Or were they just there to watch the game?

BD: I don't know. I just know they came in right in the fourth quarter and that was very uncomfortable. We were up 20 before they walked into that gym … My antennas went up. They had to go up, you know what I mean?

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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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"The L.A. in my Game," with Jordan Hamilton

September, 3, 2011
By The Kamenetzky Brothers
As part of a continuing series, NBA players share how growing up in L.A. shaped their games.

For Jordan Hamilton, an NBA lockout stalling his rookie season with the Denver Nuggets is a microcosm of his entire basketball career: A series of starts and stops. Academically ineligible as a Dorsey High school freshman, the Crenshaw district product repeated that grade academically the following year, but was considered a sophomore player on the court. Thus, a season lost in the ether. After transferring to Dominguez his junior year, he led the squad to the state finals, where they were upset by McClymonds. Unfortunately, redemption wasn't in the cards. Despite three appeals, Hamilton's eligibility was ruled expired as a senior. Disappointed but undeterred, Hamilton made the best of the situation by maintaining his high work ethic. That determination led to two seasons at Texas, followed by 26th overall selection by the Denver Nuggets in this year's draft.

Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images
Hamilton's road to the NBA wasn't as smooth as his game.

Kamenetzky brothers: When you first began playing, which were your regular playgrounds and parks?

Jordan Hamilton: We played some basketball at Ladera Park. Baldwin Hills park. I'd go there every once in a while and play. Rancho Cienega [mainly]. A lot of guys came out of there and played as kids. Marcus Williams played there as kids. I think Arron [Afflalo] played there. A lot of pros. I liked the atmosphere. It was like a mini-Rucker indoors, so a lot of people would come out and watch us play.

I never really played my own age. I'd always play up. They didn't know I was only nine or 10 years old. I was around 5'10", pretty tall and pretty big, so they didn't really see me as a nine year-old.

I think that's when [respect] first got started for me, just going around there and building a reputation around L.A. Then I took it to the national scene. Growing up as a kid playing AAU from about 10, 11, 12, that's when I started getting nationally known. But it started [at Rancho]. Just built that confidence to go out and play against guys across the country and get better.

K Bros: What goes into building that reputation?

JH: People talking. It starts off as a buzz, then people come out and see you play. If you perform well and keep it going, I think that's how you build your reputation. And just being known for something. Some guys block shots. Some guys rebound well. But for me, it was scoring. A lot of people see me as a scorer, so if they come out, they expect to see me score the basketball.

K Bros: Were there any local legends you patterned your game after?

JH: Marcus Williams. I really look up to him in a lot of ways. Growing up, he was one of the best players in our area. Just seeing him how much people respected him. He's a really good passer. He can shoot. Most [guards] are known for passing, but he can shoot it. He can get to the basket. He know how to create fouls. He's not one of the quickest or fastest guys but he definitely can get the job done.

K Bros: Your parents were very involved in the community, trying to make it as strong an environment as possible. What effect did that have on you with avoiding negative influences?

JH: I have four brothers and a sister and we're all on the right track, as far as our lives go. Growing up in the Crenshaw area, it was kind of rough. We just hung out with each other. Those are really my close friends. I'd include Marcus and a couple of others. Those are the main focuses. Having us stay tight, having us in a support system, and basketball is what we all chose.

K Bros: Did you have to make a conscious decision of acknowledging those surroundings and trying to distance yourself?

JH: My dad, he works with County Probation with juveniles. He'd take us to the place to see the kids and that was kind of scary for us. That being said, we never wanted to go down that route. We just kept straight heads and did what we had to do to be a positive influence in the community.

K Bros: Your older brother played for the University of Miami and professionally overseas. What did you learn from him?

JH: He was more of a post player, but he's been through it with other guys and saw other wings train. He put me through some drills and then later that day, we would play some pickup basketball every summer. I would play against pros all the time. I think that's also a confidence booster. It was like, "Okay, if I can get my shot off against Ron Artest or Trevor Ariza, I can definitely get my shot off on a wing in college."

K Bros: When did you really focus on taking basketball to the next level?

JH: Probably when I was 12. When I was 11, we went to Nationals in Florida with an AAU team and I had a really good showing. And then when I was 12, that's when I started playing against guys that were older than me. Right after that, I [thought] maybe I can possibly be in the NBA one day.

K Bros: You started out at Dorsey, but you were academically ineligible as a freshman. Was it frustrating or scary to have your high school quickly stall?

JH: Yeah, it was tough. I started high school at 13 years old, failed some classes, so I was academically ineligible and then I tried to fight to get that year back. Technically, I was [still] in ninth grade, but it was my sophomore year on the court and ninth grade in the class room. I played two years at Dorsey, then transferred to Dominguez, which was my junior year, but technically, on the court I was a senior. My fifth year, I couldn't play at all. Not playing kind of hurt me, but I knew I was gonna be okay. My grades were okay, since the NCAA granted me a fifth year. I was gonna be able to go to college and play.

K Bros: Your family takes grades seriously. Was it harder being unable to play or telling them about those grades?

JH: Harder to go home. (Laughs)

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Lakers vs. Celtics: What to watch with ESPN Boston

February, 10, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Despite appearances to the contrary, the Lakers don't simply exist to generate talk about Carmelo Anthony. Their central purpose is to play games, and tonight's is a marquee matchup. It doesn't get much bigger than Lakers-Celtics, and after the poor showing in January, the Lakers should be primed to ensure a regular season split.

As is our custom, we share local knowledge and perspective with ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg. Topics include panic in L.A., the Celtics' collective health and success inside TD Garden. I found particularly interesting Forsberg's response about the impact of reserve small forward Marquis Daniels' absence:

The Daniels situation has put the Celtics on tilt like nothing else this season and for good reason. Boston has operated all year knowing full well it doesn't have another swingman behind Pierce and Daniels, which was a risky proposition at season's start considering the amount of time Daniels has missed during his career. Ironically, he had appeared in all but one game this season before his scary incident this past weekend and even that absence was related to a family matter and not an injury.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has preached throughout the season that he liked the makeup of this team and said he was content to go the duration with these 15 guys. Now, he's being forced to examine the trade market closer because there's a very real chance that Boston will now have to make a move for a 3 before the deadline (and if they can't facilitate a trade, they might have to sign someone off the scrap heap at the expense of waiving one of their current 15 guaranteed contracts).

Regardless, there's no ideal situation here. Even if Daniels can get healthy before season's end, his projected absence of at least a month is a long time to cover without a backup to Pierce (and even then there's no guarantee Daniels comes back as strong as he was playing before the scare). As Rivers said Wednesday, the team doesn't have anyone who can come in and guard the likes of LeBron James when Pierce goes out.

All of a sudden, Boston yearns for the likes of Tony Allen and James Posey. I've already received 1,473 trade machine suggestions on how to bring back these players. Which is a nice diversion from the daily Rasheed Wallace requests, but some are even suggesting to bring him back and let him play the 3 (after all, he does like to chuck 3's).
After the 109-96 loss to the Celtics, Phil Jackson was asked if Ron Artest, who scored just three points on one-for-10 shooting while struggling to check Paul Pierce, "got lost" on the way to Staples Center.

"No, he was on time," Phil replied. "(But) he got lost on the court."

Artest did, however, manage to locate the bench during the second half. He played fewer than six minutes over that duration, none of them in the final quarter. explained Jackson, "They started off with Pierce, what did he get, nine points right off the bat. Three three-pointers. (AK's note: Only six points, but in less than three minutes.) And Ron took a couple shots that I thought were perhaps not in the context of what we were trying to do, so I thought maybe it would go in another direction, but it didn't seem to work."

No, it didn't, and this was a very big problem for the Lakers.

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
As a change of recently established pace, Paul Pierce got the best of Ron Artest.

That Artest has struggled throughout the course of this season isn't exactly a government secret. It's been acknowledged countless times over this season, and by no less a critic than the man himself. A lack of understanding has been expressed about his role, and while he refrained from complaining about the situation, losing crunch time minutes to a then-healthy Matt Barnes clearly wasn't sitting well.

There have, however, been recent signs of life since a knee injury sidelined Barnes, most notably his utter destruction of Carmelo Anthony during a lopsided win in Denver. With the exception of rebounding, his January splits have also trended in the right direction. There's still improvement needed, but the Lakers don't really need Artest to play at an All-NBA level to thrive. His contributions simply must be tangible, especially on the defensive end. At the very least, he can't stand in the way of success.

Tonight's performance fell squarely into the latter category, and the effect was drastic. At its most basic, his nine misses from the floor-- four in under two minutes during the first quarter -- equaled nine empty possessions, and some of these bricks were just bad ideas. There was an off-balance baseline jumper fading left. A layup where he hesitated under the rim, allowing Shaq even more time to set up a swat everyone but Ron saw coming ten miles away. And his ineffectiveness against Pierce was pointed and surprising, considering how well he shut down the Inglewood native last season.

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Lakers vs. Celtics: What to watch, with ESPNBoston.com

January, 29, 2011
By The Kamenetzky Brothers

AP Photo/Getty Images
In '08, Boston celebrated at the expense of the Lakers. Last season, L.A. turned the tables. Is Sunday's game a precursor to a rubber match this June?

Earlier in the week, we took a look back at last June's epic Finals Game 7 with ESPNBoston's Chris Forsberg, host of the Boston Celtics Report. (Really, it's just a fancy name for Celtics Blog. Typical Forsberg to try and come up with some sort of quasi-clever name for his site. We would NEVER do that sort of thing.)

That was then. Sunday's game at Staples, the first meeting since the Lakers clinched their second straight title, is now. So once again, we join forces with Forsberg, this time to preview the festivities.

First question goes to Chris...

How do you account for how well the Celtics have managed to play this season, despite a string of injuries and several players not getting any younger? Other than Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, there's been a fair amount of key guys in and out.

Forsberg: If Games 6 and 7 of the Finals taught Boston anything, it's that they couldn't get by on the depth they had. Yes, it's hard to complain when you have a starting lineup featuring three surefire Hall of Famers, one of the game's best young point guards, and a still-underrated defense-first center, yet Boston's bench was frighteningly inconsistent last season (producing a Shrek & Donkey moment one night, then completely disappearing the next).

So Boston beefed up in the offseason, adding Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, and Delonte West via free agency. Pay no mind to the fact they've missed roughly a season's worth of games between them, Boston has often been able to keep at least one O'Neal upright and, for those moments they're both in the shop, they brought over Turkish import Semih Erden, the Mr. Irrelevant of the 2008 draft who has exceeded all expectations while serving as a spot starter at times during his rookie campaign.

But more than anything, Boston's core five of Rajon Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Glen Davis have carried this team. Davis is in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year, while playing starter-like minutes off the bench. Allen, Pierce, and Garnett (and Shaq, too) are flirting with posting career highs in field-goal percentage, and much of that can be traced to Rondo's distribution.

By avoiding big injuries to their biggest names (yes, Rondo and Garnett both missed sizable spans), Boston has been able to thrive. The whole "gotta get home-court advantage just in case we need it" is pushing them a bit, too, after how last season ended.

For you guys: The Lakers have 13 losses, but they seem to be coming in bunches. Anything to that? It seemed like Los Angeles also beefed up in the offseason, so any concern about not being the most dominant team in the West thus far?

Brian Kamenetzky: The clusters of losses were concerning in part because they were unprecedented in the Pau Gasol era. To see a three- and four-game losing streak -- particularly the set against Milwaukee, Miami, and San Antonio where they didn't just lose, but were totally obliterated -- was disturbing. Championship teams just don't do that sort of thing. (Literally. If memory serves, we got a stat in our inbox noting how one title winning team, the '77-'78 Washington Bullets, ever had a bad run like it, losing three straight by 15-plus. If the details are off, suffice to say it doesn't happen often.)

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Week in preview: January 24 - January 30

January, 24, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Two of the Lakers' three opponents are above .500, a trend which will continue throughout the rest of the regular season. With the schedule growing increasingly difficult, the Lakers will need to continue bringing the A-Game displayed against the Nuggets in Denver. This week is as good a time as any to build a steady foundation.
Game of the Week

Sunday vs. Celtics, 12:30 pm PT
With all due respect to a Christmas Day game against the Evil Super Team hyped as containing the fate of western civilization in it's balance, this is the biggest regular season game the Lakers will have played to date. Even more than contests against the Heat, the Thunder or the surging Spurs, a date with the Celtics, quite simply, is the one matters most, and beyond the juicy plot lines immediately jumping to mind:

Beyond the inherent rivalry, reborn after two decades of stagnation with two meetings in the last three finals . . .

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Kobe and the Lakers can never expect an easy contest against the Celtics.

Beyond Kendrick Perkins' bold claim the Celtics would have beaten the Lakers if he'd been healthy (which is certainly reasonable, if fairly shortsighted, considering how easily the same could be said about the Lakers in 2008 with Andrew Bynum available) . . .

Beyond the presence of a certain 7-1, 325 monster whose history with the Lakers (and Kobe Bryant) is equal parts glorious and antagonist . . .

Even beyond Von Wafer coming off the Celtics' bench with the goal of burning the team that drafted him . . .

All hype aside, this is the biggest game of the regular season for the Lakers for reasons more sobering than sexy. The Lakers haven't been playing like a team with rings on a consistent basis and the Celtics are again serious championship contenders.

Yes, the individual matchups intrigue: Kobe vs. the Celtics strong-side team defense. Rajon Rondo vs. whichever Laker(s) guard him. Pau Gasol and/or Lamar Odom vs. Kevin Garnett. Andrew Bynum and/or Gasol vs. Shaq. Ron Artest v. Paul Pierce. Ray Allen vs. his wildly erratic shooting against the Lakers last season. Shrek and Donkey vs. a Matt Barnes-less bench. And on down the line.

But at the end of the day, this game matters for the Lakers because a loss here, particularly a bad one, wouldn't shake the Lakers to their core, but could certainly provide a reality check about how much work lies ahead in order to keep the O'Brien in Los Angeles.

And if it didn't, that's an even bigger reason for concern.

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New K Bros PodKast: Game 7 preview

June, 17, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
You've read my reasons why the Lakers will take Game 7 and Chris Forsberg's reasons they won't. You're read my seven questions heading into Game 7. You've read Brian's thoughts on Game 7 psychology and "the Kobe" we'll see tonight. That's probably enough pregame analysis, right?

You're damn right it's not!

Thus, the newest K Brothers PodKast of this Lakers season. Our look at Game 6, plus what we're expecting in Game 7:

The Lakers romped in Game 6, setting up the ultimate game for fans. Lakers vs. Celtics, Game 7 for the NBA championship. Andy and Brian preview the action, and discuss what's at stake for Kobe Bryant.

Podcast Listen
-(2:40): Brian and I talk about the Laker D in Game 6, then differ on whether on not the Celtics played with less energy than the Lakers. But here's where we're absolutely on the same page: Game 7 will feature a Boston squad playing much better than last Tuesday.

-(6:35): What does the loss of Kendrick Perkins mean? The stats say a lot. No argument from either of us. Brian wondered whether Perk's absence will lead to Boston drastically altering their game plan as a surprise attack, like the Rockets in 2009 when Yao Ming's injury forced Houston to go small. I'm guessing no, since there's so little time to prepare to play without Perkins, much less learn a radically new scheme. We're expecting Boston to duplicate what they do to the best of their ability with the guys they have.

-(13:00): Praise for the Game 6 performances of Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic. It's not often the Lakers get a quality showing from the entire backup backcourt. Do we expect a repeat in Game 7? Probably not, but the good news is the Lakers really need just one of them to play well. The other two simply need to avoid playing poorly.

-(18:10): Prediction time. At the risk of a jinx, we're thinking 16th title.

-(19:10): What does the Lakers winning tonight mean for Kobe Bryant's legacy? You could reasonably argue it's the most significant game of Kobe's career: Game 7. NBA Finals. Hated Celtics, just two years removed from beating him for a title. A lot of resume-building flavor in that mix. Unfortunately, I think people will use the game more as a defining moment to detract from Kobe's career if the Lakers lose, rather than an enhancing moment if they win. It's not entirely fair to Kobe, but it's nonetheless the reality I'm guessing would surface.

Seven Questions for Game 7

June, 16, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Game 7.

Just the sound of it sends chills down your spine.

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
The big boys could be limited or shelved for Game 7.

There will obviously be plenty to analyze in the next two days, but I thought I'd present just the tip of the iceberg. Looking ahead to Thursday's madness, here are seven points to ponder while you await Game 7's tipoff:

1) How will ailing centers affect the outcome?

Andrew Bynum told reporters on Wednesday he is 'definitely' playing, but after once again limping off the floor only two minutes into the third quarter of Game 6, it's reasonable to question how effective he'll be. It's very possible Bynum has, after three rounds of playing on a knee requiring surgery, reached the end of the line. At the very least, he's running on fumes. In the meantime, Kendrick Perkins is out. As reported by ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg, Perkins told reporters Wednesday he has tears in two ligaments in his right knee.

Drew hobbling around has been problematic for the Lakers, but the loss of Perkins could be a game-changer. Should Bynum somehow manage a quality outing, the Lakers will have a huge advantage in the paint. Even if he can't, life for Pau Gasol will be a whole lot more pleasant working against the likes of Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace without the physical punishment Perkins provides. Plus, the Lakers have had weeks -- not to mention last year's playoffs -- to get accustomed to mixed bag performances from Bynum. Boston will have fewer than 48 hours to adjust to Perkins' absence. It's tough accounting for a key cog on the fly.

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Game 6 Preview: The Questions & Answers

June, 15, 2010
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
(Monday afternoon, I sat in on 710 ESPN's LA Sports Live. We took a lot of calls, and between those, the tweets and e-mails we've received, and comments in our Land O'Lakers mailbag, a lot of commonalities have emerged. With that in mind, to get ready for tonight's insanely critical Game 6, I present a Conversation With John Q. Lakers Fan...)

Paul J. Richards/Getty Images
Lamar Odom has to be productive in Game 6, particularly with Andrew Bynum's ability to be effective in serious doubt.

So talk me down, man. This isn't over, is it?

Of course not.

Look, I won't lie to you: The task facing the Lakers isn't an easy one. Boston was the only team in the league with a better record on the road than at home during the regular season and the Celtics already have won twice at Staples Center this year. Boston is, as you may have noticed, an elite defensive team and the Lakers, as Kobe noted after Game 5, have regressed on that end of the floor since Game 1.

The Lakers could lose Game 6 (turning our regular Wednesday chat into an angry and vengeful place). They could win tonight and lose Game 7. Lakers fans have every reason to pop Xanax like Tic Tacs just to take the edge off. (Note: This approach is not endorsed by the Land O'Lakers Blog.)

But while the mountain is tall, it can be climbed. Six times in the 2-3-2 Finals format a road team has taken a 3-2 lead into the home team's building, and four times the road team has won the series. Twice the home team came back. It's a small sample size, but enough to show the home team can take two straight.

The Lakers' challenge is tough, but not unprecedented.

Whew! Good to know. I have tickets for Game 7, and want to be able to use them. How do they get there?

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Kobe Bryant
22.3 5.6 1.3 34.5
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.9
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsR. Price 1.5
BlocksE. Davis 1.2