Los Angeles Lakers: Amare Stoudemire

D'Antoni hoping for some 'Sacresanity' in Houston

January, 8, 2013
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
HOUSTON -- It seems like nothing short of a miracle delivered straight from the basketball gods could get the Lakers winning again, with Dwight Howard (torn labrum in his right shoulder), Pau Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (torn labrum in his left hip) out of the lineup indefinitely.

Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni experienced some seemingly divine intervention last season with the Knicks when Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony went out and the then unknown Jeremy Lin saved the Knicks' season with a hot streak that will be forever referred to as "Linsanity."

Could it happen again for D'Antoni and the Lakers with Robert Sacre?

"I said yesterday Darius (Morris), but it’s probably more maybe 'Sacresanity' or 'Sacsanity' has to happen," D'Antoni said following Tuesday's shootaround in preparation for the Lakers game against the Rockets. The coach said Monday that "Morrisanity" could be coming around the corner but hedged a bit Tuesday because Sacre is definitely starting while D'Antoni has not decided, at least publicly, whether Morris or Antawn Jamison will be with the first five.

"We’ll see," D'Antoni said. "You know what? Couldn’t be a better guy that deserves it because he’s over there, he’s the most energetic, best guy on the bench that you can have. So, it couldn’t happen to a better person as it did to Lin, it couldn’t happen to a better person. We’ll see. He’s got an opportunity. We’ll see if it strikes twice."

Sacre, selected with the final pick of the second round of the NBA Draft out of Gonzaga, is averaging 0.5 points and 0.8 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game in 13 spot appearances this season.

The 7-foot, 260-pound center fared better in the preseason when he filled in for Howard while the All-Star was still recovering from offseason back surgery. Sacre has also produced with the L.A. D-Fenders, the Lakers' D-League affiliate. In five games with the D-Fenders, Sacre averaged 12.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game.

While his statistics with the Lakers have been negligible, he has managed to contribute to the culture of the team nonetheless. Sacre is already a fan favorite for his "Sacrebrations" on the bench in support his teammates. The 22-year old says his celebratory moves are in part inspired by Yosemite Sam of the Looney Tunes.

"You can’t help but notice his spirit," D'Antoni said of Sacre's antics. "If good things happen to good people, we got a good opportunity to have that adage go forward."

Sacre was at the D-League Showcase in Reno, Nevada on Monday when the news broke about the Lakers' big men being injured. With the Lakers' chartered flight already en route to Houston, Sacre had to fly commercial from Reno to Los Angeles and then from L.A. to Houston on Monday night to join the team.

D'Antoni said the Lakers had a longer walk-through than usual on Tuesday to benefit Sacre, but it wasn't necessary to get him up to speed.

"He knew it anyway," D'Antoni said. "That’s why he’s great. Because he’s always practiced hard, kept himself in shape and he’s ready to go."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Why Mike D'Antoni was the right choice

November, 12, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Give the Lakers credit. They never run out of ways to keep the world guessing. One day after giving Mike Brown a public vote of confidence, they send the guy packing. And then upon prepping everyone for the “Godfather Part III” installment of Phil Jackson in L.A. (“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”), an audible is called for Mike D’Antoni, the man painted as the distant second choice. There’s a reason this franchise has flourished in Hollywood.

Given how “We want Phil” chants have echoed through Staples Center the past two days, I know this decision will leave many fans disappointed. Each of Jackson’s stints in L.A. have featured multiple championships, and this is a team built to immediately carry that tradition. In theory, what’s not to like?

However, something about hiring Jackson always struck me as overly familiar. Predictable. A bit too convenient. You could hear the wheels turning inside the heads of fans, media and players alike. "Phil is available. ... He lives in the South Bay. ... Eleven titles. ... Zen Master. ... Of course he's the guy."

Except, of course, most complex situations typically don't resolve in ready-made, neat solutions. And I wasn’t entirely convinced another go-round with Phil was quite the slam dunk most people thought.

To begin with, the seamless-return narrative was exaggerated. Only five current Lakers players have played under Jackson, and three had relatively short stints. A few notable highs notwithstanding, Metta World Peace’s time in PJ's system was, to say the least, turbulent. Steve Blake played one year under Jackson and was visibly uncomfortable in the triangle. During Devin Ebanks' lone campaign with Phil, the then-rookie rarely removed his warm-ups. Only Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol have truly flourished in the triangle. As Bryant noted after Friday's win, the 1999-2000 squad won a title in its first triangular season, but it was also loaded with veterans who spent years playing against Jackson's Chicago Bulls, which created some degree of familiarity. This 2012-13 roster wouldn't figure to benefit from that luxury.

There was also the issue of Steve Nash, who remains the same odd fit in the triangle as he was in the Princeton. Either the Hall of Fame point guard would have endured another learning curve in a system that doesn't cater to his style, or Jackson would have been forced to tweak his offense to accommodate a type of player he's never coached. Both approaches could have meant more heads bumping, and at least one reason Brown was fired was to avoid such a scenario.

It's also worth remembering that Jackson's last season with the Lakers didn't end particularly well, beyond just the second-round sweep at the hands of Dallas. As I wrote at the time, 2010-11 wasn't a strong season for Jackson. He had to be cajoled into returning, then throughout the season often seemed disconnected with players, unable to reach and motivate them. The team appeared less prepared than it should have been at key moments, and that lack of poise reared its ugly head during a playoff run that went from wobbly to disastrous. Too often Jackson relied too heavily on his established approach rather than venturing out of his comfort zone to address what clearly wasn’t working with the team. Truth be told, he appeared tired of the NBA grind, like a man who realized he might have made a mistake in returning.

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Lakers at Knicks: What to watch, with ESPN New York

February, 10, 2012
By The Kamenetzky brothers

The Lakers are coming off a quality OT win in Boston, which in theory creates the chance for a 4-2 Grammy roadie. The trek concludes in Toronto against a shoddy Raptors crew after a trip to meet a Knicks team that is missing superstars Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, who weren't exactly laying a winning foundation, anyway. Even acknowledging their three-game winning streak, the shorthanded hosts should play the role of carcasses to the purple and gold vultures, right?

Well, that's exactly what was expected from a recent game in Milwaukee with Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson sidelined. For those with short memories, that emerged an embarrassing Lakers loss. In other words, this game may be imminently winnable, but the Lakers won't be awarded a W by default. They gotta play the game.

For some perspective on the Knicks, we talked to Jared Zwerling, who covers the team for ESPN New York. Here are his thoughts on five questions.

Land O' Lakers: Jeremy Lin has been huge during this recent surge. What in particular does he provide that the Knicks were lacking?

Brad Mills/US Presswire
Linsanity is taking over New York!

Jared Zwerling: For starters, he's very composed. Lin entered a very challenging situation, as the Knicks were desperate for substantial point guard play. He could have buckled under that pressure in an increased role in only his second year in the league. Not to mention, he's playing for the Knicks, in New York City, scrutiny taken to a whole other level. I was chatting the other day with Idan Ravin, one of the top NBA trainers in the world, and he said he's been most impressed with Lin's calmness and selfless approach. Sports psychologists say those are defining factors in superstars. They don't get rattled and make others look good. Lin has excelled in both.

Beyond his mental makeup, Lin's pick-and-roll game has been exquisite. He maneuvers well around screens, is patient and even has the dribbling ability to split double-teams like a Dwyane Wade. His standout pick-and-roll game has enabled Tyson Chandler more opportunities at the basket and the Knicks' shooters more open looks from downtown. When Lin is on the court, the Knicks are scoring more points in the paint and shooting a higher percentage.

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Rapid Reaction: Lakers 99, Knicks 82

December, 29, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Sweet Virginia, the Lakers are a .500 team again! After a week spent biting fingernails and ducking in fear of a falling sky, things seem to be stabilizing a bit. Obviously, there's still more work to do, but it's nice to see the team seemingly moving in the right direction. With Andrew Bynum about to return, the path only gets rosier. Here are six takeaways from the game:

1) Devin Ebanks is ready for a place in the rotation...
... But perhaps not quite ready to guard a superstar wing like Carmelo Anthony. I asked Mike Brown before the game if he was curious to see how the second-year player -- who might as well be a rookie after the limited playing time he had last season -- would fare in his first assignment shadowing an elite scorer. The coach admitted he was in fact intrigued, but Ebanks would also receive a short leash for mistakes. To say the least, Brown wasn't lying.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
A guy like Melo is a handful for most seasoned defenders, much less a youngster like Ebanks.

Devin only ended isolated against Melo on a handful of possessions -- for reasons I don't quite understand, the Knicks didn't seem particularly interested in milking this matchup -- but when they faced off, Ebanks drew whistle after whistle. As a result, he received quick hooks in the first half for Metta World Peace, then in the second for Matt Barnes. Only 14 minutes of PT logged, with very little impact to show for it.

I'd be surprised if his showing cost Ebanks a spot in the rotation, considering his solid previous three outings, plus the potential the organization and Brown sees in him. But in his first truly prime time matchup, Ebanks revealed he still has plenty to learn.

In the meantime, Barnes appears to be back in the rotation, although it'll be interesting to see how his minutes fluctuate throughout the season. If Ebanks holds his own, I imagine Barnes will play fewer than tonight's 18 minutes. If Ebanks is overwhelmed and/or the matchup dictates his presence, maybe more. But either way, Barnes got some run, which will make him happy.

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Lakers-Knicks: What to Watch with ESPN NY's Jared Zwerling

December, 29, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky

After three consecutive games, plus a day off to recharge, the Lakers are back at it Thursday night against the Knicks. The purple and gold will try to even their record against a New York squad on the back end of a back-to-back, which began with a loss to the Warriors. For a better look at Thursday's opponent, I tracked down Jared Zwerling (ESPN New York) for some insight.

(Also, here are my responses to Jared regarding the Lakers.)

Andy Kamenetzky: Small sample size acknowledged, but do you get a sense Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have a better sense of how to play with each other? How does the dynamic work, with both needing the ball?

Jared Zwerling: By playing with each other, do you mean being on the same court together, because that's where the similarity starts and ends, for now. At this point, the Knicks are more stationary than what's sold at Kinko's. With Chauncey Billups gone, Mike D'Antoni has been using Anthony as his point-forward, like K.C. Jones made Larry Bird on his 1980s Celtics championship teams. That has gotten Knicks fans excited, but the team has shied away from its trademark pick-and-roll, which is a main component of D'Antoni's offense. That's mostly due to a brand-new team still adjusting and not in rhythm yet. When they do run it, it's been mostly Anthony and Tyson Chandler playing the two-man game, with Amare Stoudemire positioned on the weak side for the jump shot, or even the 3-pointer, which he's been knocking down.

Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images
Melo and Amare are still an experiment in chemistry.

D'Antoni has Chandler mostly setting screens because of his 7-foot-1 size and long arms, so there's better spacing and ball movement, and his two superstar scorers can get more open on separate sides of the court. But the offense is not there yet. The majority of the time Anthony or Stoudemire have the ball in their hands, they're going iso on their respective defender. Anthony is more of the ball-stopper because his game is centered around his patented face-up quick jump shot from midrange. He doesn't need a screen to score, whereas it's more helpful for Stoudemire, who's used to playing that way from his days with Steve Nash.

The thing is, Anthony is such a good scorer -- he single-handedly led the Knicks over the Celtics on Christmas Day -- that the Knicks sometimes settle on dishing the ball to him and then standing around watching him go to work. Overall, Anthony and Stoudemire will never be a play-off-each-other duo like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade because their games are suited to shine separately on different areas on the court. They need their teammates in between them to get them the rock. Anthony and Stoudemire will have to adjust more to the flow of the offense and help the Knicks play more of a team game. Through two games, they're averaging only 16 assists per game.

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Consistency key to keeping Odom around

December, 2, 2011
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin

Question: What is the mark of a fair referee, an appetizing flan dessert and Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom’s Sixth Man of the Year season in 2010-11?

Answer: Consistency.

Odom had perhaps the finest season of his 12-year career last season, showing a consistency that he had lacked in the past. And yet, his spot on the team going forward is somewhat uncertain.

[+] EnlargeLamar Odom
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesLamar Odom played in all 82 games last season and had 28 double-doubles.
He was already dangled in a trade offer to Minnesota prior to the draft in June in an attempt to acquire the Timberwolves’ No. 2 pick, according to reports. And Wednesday, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Chad Ford reported that the Lakers are expected to offer “some combination” of Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to Orlando in a bid for Dwight Howard.

If Odom avoids being dealt out of town this season, his future with the Lakers is still tenuous despite that he is signed through 2012-13.

He is set to make $8.2 million next season, but only about $2 million of that is guaranteed, meaning the Lakers could decide to avoid the luxury tax hit that would come from carrying Odom on their books. Two seasons from now, 2013-14, is the first year of the new collective bargaining agreement when the new, harsher luxury tax penalty kicks in. But general manager Mitch Kupchak will surely be tasked with paring down the payroll every opportunity he gets between now and then.

Teams will have to pay an incremental tax that increases with every $5 million above the tax threshold ($1.50, $1.75, $2.50, $3.25, etc.), whereas in the past it was just a dollar-for-dollar fee and the Lakers paid it readily ($19.9 million in 2010-11; $21.4 million in ’09-10). With the luxury tax line estimated to be somewhere around $70 million in 2012-13 and the Lakers already pledging to pay about $46.9 million to Kobe Bryant and Gasol that season, letting Odom go could be a necessary sacrifice to avoid a wallet-gauging luxury tax penalty for owner Dr. Jerry Buss.

If he stays on the team for all of 2011-12, Odom can do a lot to convince Buss to dip into his incoming Time Warner Cable television deal money next season to keep the versatile forward around by continuing to be consistent performer game to game rather than a once-in-a-while dynamo as he’s been for most of his career.

Odom shot 53 percent from the field last season, the best percentage of his career. He registered 28 double-doubles and played in all 82 games. He won the hearts of Lakers fans who had written him off as a tantalizing talent that would never realize his full potential.

Not too long ago, a great game by Odom would almost come as a surprise.

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When the Lakers re-signed Lamar Odom, did it change the NBA?

March, 22, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Monday afternoon, Phil Jackson commented on Lamar Odom's value to the Lakers.

"We made a decision as an organization two years ago to sign Lamar, which put us into a difficult cap situation," he said. "Yet we were convinced that without him, we wouldn’t win a championship again. That was a good decision by the organization."

Jesse D. Garrabrandt/NBAE/Getty Images
Lamar Odom has won a pair of titles with the Lakers, but had he not stuck around after the '09 season, the entire NBA landscape might look different today.

But what if they'd gone the other way?

What if Dr. Buss, presented contract figures by Mitch Kupchak, looked to his bank account then L.A.'s projected payroll and screamed, "No mas," or Odom decided to change addresses? While Odom last season wasn't the adjusted plus-minus monster of the '08-'09 title run, he was nonetheless invaluable. Particularly when considering how difficult it would have been to replace him (and by "difficult," I mean "impossible"), as Jackson infers, I'm comfortable saying the Lakers wouldn't have won without him (and, unfortunately for Lakers fans, that the Celtics would).

Without a shot at a threepeat, Jackson might have retired, obviously changing the context of this year's title charge.

But that's just the Lakers. The web widens considerably, right?

Had Odom left L.A., he'd likely have signed with Pat Riley and the Heat, potentially altering the entire future of the league. In this alternate universe in which Miami has L.O. on the payroll, it's less likely the Heat would have been able to clear enough cap space to sign their Big Three last summer. So where does LeBron go? Do 23 jerseys never burn in the streets of Cleveland? Does Dan Gilbert never write his comic sans opus (depriving the world of fantastic columns like this)? Maybe LBJ takes his talents to the Big Apple, instead? Does Amare Stoudemire go there, too?

Where does that leave Carmelo Anthony? Who's to say the Bulls, currently tied with Boston for the top seed in the East, get the pieces they do if James and Chris Bosh- who could have joined James in Cleveland- don't both end up in black and red.

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Lakers vs. Knicks: What to watch with ESPN New York

February, 11, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Can the Lakers, to use Kobe Bryant's typical parlance, "keep the train rolling?" Well, the New York Knicks have improved by leaps and bounds over last season, but they're also reeling at the moment. In the meantime, the Lakers have strung together a couple of weeks' worth of quality ball, and Kobe has a habit of flourishing under the Madison Square Garden lights. The second half of a back-to-back is never an easy task, particularly after a hard-fought win like the one in Boston, but the Lakers' chances certainly don't look bad on paper.

To get an idea of why the Knicks are suddenly sputtering, we contacted Jared Zwerling, who covers the Knicks for ESPN New York. Issues include defense inside and along the wing, energy recently lacking and minds occupied by a certain small forward in Denver. No, not Renaldo Balkman. The other guy.

Q: The Knicks are 4-6 in their past 10 games, the most recent loss while hosting an undermanned Clippers team. Is there something specific causing problems? Do you think the Melo Drama plays any role in the struggles?

Jared Zwerling: Actually, the Knicks are 5-11 in their past 16 games, so they're not even that good. After the Clippers loss last night, Mike D’Antoni, Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton all pointed to the fact they’ve been playing with a lack of focus and energy. I think the Carmelo Anthony drama definitely has something to do with that.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
Even if the Knicks do get Carmelo, it won't be in time for this game.

For example, Wilson Chandler has said flat-out he doesn’t want to play in Denver. Imagine if you’re an employee of a company, and were just notified they’re relocating to another city in a few months you don’t want to go to. That’s what Wilson and I think several other members of the team are dealing with to a greater extent. Even D’Antoni wants Knicks fans to stop chanting, “We want Me-lo.” I’m sure every player has a feeling of uncertainty about where they’re really going to be come Feb. 24 -- or even before.

There are other things on the court, too. On the season, the Knicks have a minus-1.4 first-quarter scoring margin average, which ranks them tied for fifth worst in the league with the Nets. They’re not coming out ready to play -- it’s as simple as that. They especially need that energy to prevent them from becoming a stagnant, shot-happy team. When they get better ball movement, good things happen for the Knicks. When Felton has a double-double in points and assists, they have a strong winning record.

Defensively, a lack of an interior presence and perimeter quickness has hurt. To the first point, I will say I have been impressed with Timofey Mozgov's energy and rebounding. After him, though, Stoudemire has no support protecting the paint, and it doesn’t help that Ronny Turiaf is out with an ankle sprain. But he’s really just another energy guy, honestly. Too many times this season, an opposing power forward has gone off on the Knicks. Luis Scola, David Lee, Elton Brand. Even Carl Landry! Kevin Love had an historic 31-point, 31-rebound night!

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It's been a long time coming, but Lakers vs. Knicks finally has a little cachet again. New York, after a 3-8 start, now sits at 21-14, having won three straight, including a very strong win earlier this week against San Antonio at the Garden.

Those Spurs, I hear, are pretty good.

Andy and Brian preview Sunday's Lakers vs. Knicks tilt at Staples with Jared Zwerling, contributor to ESPNNewYork.com

Podcast Listen
Nor are the Knicks all that lopsided, having actually won more games on the road (11) than at home. As is customary for a Mike D'Antoni squad, the Knicks play fast (averaging a robust 99.2 possessions a game, second in the NBA), pile up points (108.1 ppg, tops in the league), and do it with admirable efficiency (108.8 points per 100 possessions, good for third).

Defensively, call it either a work in progress or par for the course with a D'Antoni squad. Either way, they're in the bottom third in efficiency.

They're also not terribly bulky. Where the Knicks have an advantage with outside shooting and athleticism up and down the floor, the Lakers have more size than New York ought to be able to handle. "They're playing at a high level. Their offense is clicking right along, and seemed to go by the [Danilo] Gallinari injury [he'll miss the game with a bad knee] without a hitch. [Wilson] Chandler and [Raymond] Felton are playing really well, and the addition of [Amare] Stoudemire has obviously been a big boost," Phil Jackson said Saturday.

"We have to impose our will on the game. If they impose their game on our team, it's going to be a long night for us. They're going to score a lot of points."

Stoudemire, making an early argument for MVP, is the catalyst for everything the Knicks do, averaging 26.3 points, nine rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. He's obviously a player with whom the Lakers are familiar, but the rebuilt Knicks as a group are more a mystery. To get a better handle on Spike Lee's crew, we spoke with Jared Zwerling, part of ESPNNewYork.com's coverage of the Knicks. For his full breakdown, click on the podcast link to your right.

Lovers of the (type-)written word, read on ...

What you need to know about the Knicks, courtesy of Jared Zwerling:

1. They're not a great defensive team, but the Knicks hawk the ball:

“It’s their athleticism and length. They’re leading the league in blocked shots, and that’s just due to great reaction time and athleticism. They might be late on some of the back picks and cutting, but they’re getting to the basket quickly and blocking shots. Ronny Turiaf’s done a great job. Against the Pacers, it was a very tight game but Turiaf had six blocks in that game -- a great one on Darren Collison with about 30 seconds to go which really sealed the game for the Knicks -- so I would credit length and athleticism. But against very skillful, good half-court teams like the Lakers and Celtics, the Knicks struggle a little bit, and I think it’s probably due to size, first of all. They’re getting beat with bodies. Off penetration, I think the Knicks do a bit of a better job blocking shots off the guards, but against the big guys, that’s really where the Knicks have a big hole.”

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Week in preview: January 3-9

January, 3, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
The skeptic would dwell on how unpleasant the Lakers have become to watch. The optimist would note how things can only improve in a competitive setting, which makes four games over the next seven days an ideal opportunity.

Game of the Week

Sunday vs. Knicks, 6:30 pm PT
Even as someone expecting the Knicks to improve this season, this rebooted franchise has surpassed my expectations. A Sunday victory over the Pacers marked New York's 19th win, one month ahead of the pace from last season's 19th win. They've been winning on the road (albeit not necessarily in the toughest contests outside of their house). Ray Felton is playing like an All-Star. Landy Fields is playing, despite arriving to the Knicks as a ho-hum 39th overall pick. And victories are coming without Anthony Randolph playing at all, despite landing in New York as arguably the centerpiece of the David Lee trade.

Jeyhoun Allebaugh/Getty Images
Will Amare throw down on the Lakers?

But at the end of the day, the turnaround is about Amare Stoudemire, the consensus second choice (at highest) during The Summer of LeBron. Peg him an overpaid booby prize if you prefer, but there's no question S.T.A.T. has in fact been standing tall and talented in the Big Apple. 26 points a night (including nine straight with 30+). Nine rebounds. A shade over two blocks. These are numbers placing him in the MVP conversation, reflective of an ability to get it done without Steve Nash.

Although, as ESPN's LZ Granderson notes, Stoudemire is defending exactly the same way he did while teamed with Nash. (i.e, he's not.) Along these lines, nine rebounds is nothing to sneeze at, but Charles Barkley recently criticized him for failing to average double-digits. All of which takes us to Sunday's game.

In last season's Western Conference Finals, Amare managed to get his points against the Lakers, including a honkin' 42 in Game 3, but failed to do much else. Only one game with double digit rebounds (and three held below five boards). The infamous "lucky" assessment of Lamar Odom's 19/19 effort Game 1, which came back to shove a foot in his yap. And defense atrocious enough to unify all of Twitter against him.

As well as Stoudemire has played for New York, his head should theoretically be spinning while pitted against Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Odom. Of course, all things have been anything but equal for the Lakers these days. Thus, it's hardly impossible for Stoudemire to emerge the tallest and most talented, even while outnumbered in the battle of All-Star caliber big men.

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Lakers vs. Phoenix: What to watch

October, 29, 2010
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
To quote my mom, "Here's the thing:" Losing Amare Stoudemire hurts the Suns. A lot. Yes, his defense (as it were) never served to elevate the Suns, but overall, he's one of the best power forwards in the NBA. A team can't lose that type of talent without feeling the effects. Still, wait before breaking out the shovels and hiring a priest to deliver last rites on last year's Western Conference finalists. Two seasons ago, after Stoudemire suffered a partial tear in his retina and missed the team's final 29 games, the Suns won a reasonably respectable 16 of them, including 12 of their last 17.

Different team, different time, no question, but that the Suns will fall off the ends of the NBA's earth this year is hardly a given. Without Stoudemire, Steve Nash doesn't have another star to work with, but Phoenix did at least attempt to replace the production, bringing in Hakeem Warrick, Hedo Turkoglu, and Josh Childress. Point being, the cupboard isn't bare. The Suns should still be competitive- certainly the Jazz would agree- and thanks to their unconventional style, a tough opponent night-to-night.

Meaning if the Lakers don't show up to play, dreams of an 82-0 season could die before they've even had a chance to spread their wings and fly. Here's what to watch for...

1. Rebounding. The Suns could still be pretty good, but it doesn't mean they'll be good in every respect. Defense, for one. Some things don't change. And rebounding. Definitely rebounding. They'll grab their share on the offensive side, simply because the Suns take so many long and transition shots, which lend themselves well to ORB's. But on the other end? Phoenix was the second worst defensive rebounding team by percentage in the NBA a year ago, and that was with Stoudemire, and Lou Amundson (now in Golden State). The current roster doesn't lend itself to much improvement along those lines. Robin Lopez, Channing Frye, and Turkoglu are the only three significant rotation players 6'10" and over, and the latter two are hardly considered glass eaters.

In Tuesday's opener, the Lakers were outrebounded by the Rockets 53-44. That ratio needs to tighten, if not swing in L.A.'s favor Friday night. More importantly, the Lakers have an opportunity, if they stay aggressive, to earn scads of second chance points. It happened in last season's playoffs in those moments where the Lakers were most effective against the Suns, and it can happen again. Should happen again, actually.

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New PodKast: Dr. Buss to the HOF, Ariza, and All-Star halftime acts

August, 13, 2010
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
The Lakers finally seem to be winding down from the business of summer. Shannon Brown is back, the two second rounders are in the fold, leaving the to-do list without many empty boxes.Which is nice, because tonight brings a well-deserved, proud moment for the Lakers franchise, as Dr. Jerry Buss is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Andy and Brian welcome longtime L.A. sportswriter Steve Springer to talk about the HOF induction of Jerry Buss. Plus, Trevor Ariza heads to New Orleans and a breakdown of a big summer for the NBA and Judaism!

He owns the crown jewel franchise in a league that has quite literally gone global, but these days he keeps a lower profile and it's easy for fans to think of him (even if only in moments of weakness) as a man with a checkbook, forgetting how transformative a figure he's been in the history of the NBA. By recognizing the value of the game not just as sport but entertainment and changing the way fans experience the product, he helped usher the league out of a very dark, tenuous period. That, combined with paralleled success- 10 championships, 16 Finals appearances, and only two season without postseason play in three decades of ownership- makes the HOF an easy call, long in coming.

To get more insight into Dr. Buss and his influence, we spoke with Steve Springer, who covered the Lakers for over two decades for the L.A. Times (and contributed a couple great pieces on the Springfield-bound Buss during last season for ESPNLA.com.)

Then, after (sort of) lamenting the death of perennially unfunny "Cathy" comic strip, it's on to Trevor Ariza, the trade sending him to New Orleans, and how a man's future in the NBA can turn on a dime. (If by "dime" you mean "botched negotiation." You choose.) After, we dive into one of the summer's more unusual trends: the NBA and Judaism! (Trust us, as a pair of suburban Jewish kids, we never thought this would happen.) Amare Stoudemire has explored some familial Jewish roots in Isreal, Shaquille O'Neal is greeting TMZ cameras in Hebrew, and now LeBron James is consulting a mysterious orthodox rabbi on major business matters.

Amazing! Put it all together, and it shouldn't shock when I unveil the NBA's surprise choice for halftime entertainment at this year's All-Star Game.

Phil Jackson's competitiveness and closing out on the road

May, 29, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Tonight presents the Lakers a shot at punching their ticket to a third consecutive NBA Finals. Winning on the road is never an easy proposition, much less during the playoffs in a close-out scenario. Thankfully for Lakers fans, the purple and gold are rolling when it comes to this particular hurdle. Their last four series (Nuggets and Magic in '09, Thunder and Jazz in '10) have wrapped up outside the confines of Staples Center, a degree of success far too pronounced to write off as a coincidence.

There's an art to taking care of business in a hostile environment, and it starts with the desire to succeed under the most challenging circumstances. It's one thing to be unafraid of the moment. It's another to actually desire being thrust into the moment.

Phil Jackson was asked during Friday's practice about the Lakers' success closing on the road, and how much he relishes the opportunity to end a foe's season in their house. His response was nothing if not fiery:

"We don't plan on going to Phoenix and losing three times on their home court. We're not making this trip over there just to fill a date. We're going over there to win a game. We're highly motivated for this game, but we understand that if it has to go seven, we're damn well ready to come back home and defend our home court again. This is a series that has taken a lot of different faces to it in the course of these five games and we don't expect Game 6 to be any different."

Hearing Phil's words, I was reminded of something I already knew but often goes lost in the shuffle of a laid-back persona. The man is competitive as hell.

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By the time a series reaches Game 6, the chips are basically on the table. Sure, there are adjustments still to be made, maybe some rabbits still lingering at the bottoms of hats, but everyone basically knows what has to happen for one team to beat the other. Particularly these days, when no number goes undiscovered. (I'm sure someone somewhere has computed Alvin Gentry's PER in courtside vomiting after Game 5.)

Jeff Gross/Getty Images Lamar Odom has been called an x-factor so many times, it might as well be added to his birth certificate.

You know the Lakers need to control the boards, get the ball in the seam of the zone, aggressively defend the pick and roll, and keep Amare Stoudemire off the line (among other things). So will they do it?

Here are five true/false propositions to occupy your time before tonight's tip...

1. True or false: The Lakers will get more than 12.5/8/2.5 and 37 percent shooting from Lamar Odom.

These were his major-stat averages in Games 3 and 4 in L.A.'s first visit to Phoenix, compared to home averages of 17.67/14.33/3.67 on nearly 64 percent from the floor. The guy has been called an X-factor so often, X-factors on other teams are just called "Lamar." But there's no question Odom is a barometer for the rest of the group. They can (and often do) win when Odom isn't active, but rarely it seems they lose when he goes off. If Odom doesn't settle for jumpers, his ability to run the floor, handle the ball, and get inside via the post, pass, and off-ball movement makes him a great zone-busting weapon.

Game 3 was easily Odom's worst of the series. He was discombobulated and in foul trouble. While Game 4 wasn't bad (15 points, 10 boards), it wasn't high impact. But what should encourage Lakers fans are his 12 attempts a night on the road, three more than he averaged during the regular season. It's easy to live an off night from Odom as long as he's at least trying to find offensive opportunities. It's those five FGA nights the Lakers can't afford.

VERDICT: True. Odom will improve on the 37 percent mark from Games 3 and 4, and earn a solid double-double.

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Big shots and disrespect: Practice report and video

May, 28, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
As one would expect, El Segundo's man of the hour was Ron Artest, he of the offensive rebound and layup heard 'round the world. One hell of a redemptive effort for Ron-Ron, who'd put his team in a pickle-pickle with two horrible late-game shots within seconds of each other. Still, things turned out fantastic, and it would be understandable if Artest spent the night basking in the afterglow. Maybe an impromptu night out with friends. A celebratory glass of bubbly at home. Hell, just sitting in bed watching SportsCenter highlights on a loop.

Turns out Artest commemorated the achievement with a late night workout. There wasn't even a TV on at the gym so he could admire his handiwork while getting a sweat.

"The lights was out," smiled Artest. "They was trying to kick me out."

Artest has talked all season about staying in the moment. Letting games go, win or lose, and being satisfied if he simply played hard. This is no exception. He downplayed the shot as luck and ugly. ("I freakin' got the ball over my head. No form, and just threw it up off the backboard.") He gave all the credit to Kobe Bryant for drawing attention so he'd have a path to the ball. And while Artest enjoyed celebrating with his teammates, the initial urge was to make a beeline off the court and away from the hoopla.

"If it was up to me, I would have just gone into the locker room."

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Kobe Bryant
22.3 5.6 1.3 34.5
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.1
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsR. Price 1.5
BlocksE. Davis 1.1