The Fundamentals

» May 28, 2009 11:57 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Gregg Patton of The Press Enterprise:  “Defense wins championships. Funny how everyone knows it. Funny how seldom some teams play like it. One of those teams would surely be the Lakers. Even Coach Phil Jackson has resigned himself at times to the idea that the Lakers are an offense-minded team, figuring that, when push comes to shove — and maybe even to flagrant foul — the Lakers will still try to outscore you. Of course, it doesn’t always work. Wednesday was one of those nights. Late in the third quarter, with Denver moving out to a 73-66 lead, the Lakers must have seen their postseason lives flashing before their eyes. They dug in, and turned into a defensive team. Honest. Feet moving, hands waving, winning spots on the floor. They stopped being distracted by the way the game was called or not called. The extra whistles, the lack of whistles or whatever indecipherable things the referees were doing with their whistles on this (and every other) night no longer mattered. Needing a stand, the Lakers delivered.”

Dave McMenamin of  “In the first half, Bryant wasn’t shooting because Bynum was playing like a man with two healthy knees, throwing down two dunks in the first quarter (one off a Bryant feed) to help erase the Nuggets’ early six-point lead. He wasn’t shooting because he was watching Fisher break out of his month-long slump. He wasn’t shooting because Gasol was getting going in the post. And he wasn’t shooting because he was setting the table on the final play of the half for Sasha Vujacic by breaking down the defense and kicking it out to the struggling Slovenian for a game-tying 3-pointer as the clock expired. In the second half, he wasn’t shooting because he was finding Shannon Brown for a backdoor layup. Brown’s vicious flush on Chris Andersen and his shot-clock beating jumper during the Lakers’ run in the last five minutes of the third and the first four minutes of the fourth that turned a seven-point hole into an 11-point bulge. He wasn’t shooting because Denver was aggressively trapping him as soon as he passed halfcourt and he was getting the ball out of his hands to let his teammates make plays. ‘That’s what we really asked of him,’ coach Phil Jackson said. ‘He was creating the offensive opportunities by generating a double team in a screen-roll with Pau and moving the ball ahead.’”

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:  “The weight carried by the Lakers against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night was so sizable, they bent, buckled and nearly broke. Then the guy with the bad back took it for them. The guy who supposedly doesn’t care carried them. The guy who some believe is just renting the uniform owned it — the moment, the night, and the town, roaring as Lamar Odom roared during a 103-94 Lakers victory. ‘Just gutting it out,’ he said. Just throwing it down, he did, the basketball and the gantlet, with a late push that led to 19 points, 14 rebounds and a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals. ‘I just tried to pick up my effort, energy, and I guess sometimes when you do that, sometimes it spreads,’ he saidYeah, it spreads, sometimes even from here to Orlando or Cleveland. The Lakers are now one win from their second consecutive conference championship, and five wins from Odom’s first NBA championship, and don’t you think he knows it? Walking slowly and painfully through the Staples Center tunnel to his car late Wednesday, he stopped suddenly when I asked whether he was close enough to feel it. ‘I’m 29, I’ve been playing 10 years, I’ve been through so much,’ he said quietly. ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get this close again.’”

John Hollinger of  “It was the Lakers who wore down the Nuggets with their energy in the second half, rather than the other way around. All series long we’ve wondered about the cumulative impact of the heavy minutes that Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are playing, especially in the wake of a tough seven-game series with Houston. But when the Nuggets opening up a lead, L.A. started trapping, and for the first time this series Denver flinched instead of remaining the aggressor. From the 7:37 mark of the third until the 7:52 mark of the fourth — a span of nearly a full quarter — Denver mustered only five points. That was a span of 19 trips in which they a seven-point lead became an 11-point deficit, and the Nuggets never recovered. ‘We kind of sat back as a team,’ said Billups, ‘instead of running to the ball to get it and try to make a play. They got aggressive and we got passive in that stretch, that was what turned the tide. They stepped up the pressure a little bit, they trapped harder. I had two straight turnovers where they stepped up and trapped the ball really hard. And our guys, we kind of ran away from the ball. After we made an adjustment we didn’t turn it over any more, but that was a crucial point in the game.’ The turnovers also fueled the Lakers’ offense, not to mention the crowd.”

Chris Dempsey and Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:  “Carmelo Anthony is finding that the bigger star you are, the harder you’re played. The Nuggets star forward scored 31 points in his team’s Game 5 loss, the third time he’s gone over 30 points in this series — but he did it on 9-of-23 shooting. The stomach virus was no longer an issue. His ankle is sore but isn’t an overriding factor in his performance. However, the Lakers are. ‘The Lakers ain’t going to let me beat them. That’s just the way it is,’ Anthony said. ‘Every time I get it, I’m seeing two, three, four people at a time. So I take it as a sign of respect. If they were out there and backing off me and not even worrying about me, then I take it as disrespect.’ According to his analysis, the Lakers must have the utmost respect for his play because they have clamped down on Anthony and chopped into his effectiveness. In the last three games, including Wednesday night, Anthony is 16-of-52 (30.7 percent) from the field.”

Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post:  “Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson and the Lakers organization were fined $50,000 by the NBA for complaining about the calls in Game 4, won decisively by the upstart Nuggets. Asked prior to Game 5 if he was playing mind games and planting seeds, Jackson laughed and said: ‘I’m a gardener. I like planting seeds . . . constantly.’ That’s so funny the league office should strongly consider fining Jackson again, for making light of how coaches can influence the calls made by referees. Conspiracy theories are generally for losers. But the Lakers have been to the NBA Finals 29 more times than the Nuggets, long a laughingstock in this league. Was the final score of Game 5 also a joke? Denver didn’t find it amusing. ‘I thought they got the benefit of the whistle,’ Denver coach George Karl said of the Lakers, suggesting the defense played by Los Angeles that held the Nuggets to 38.6 percent shooting from the floor was an illusion enhanced by how the refs influenced the game.”

Ken Berger of  “‘The Lakers paid $50,000 to win that game,’ the anonymous Nuggets player told the Post. ‘They got their money’s worth.’ The player did not allow his name to be used, for fear of retribution from the league, the Post reported. But let’s be fair. The player didn’t allow his name to be used because he didn’t want to pay a fine himself for such a salacious comment. If I were Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke, I’d make it my business to find out who said that, and deduct the inevitable fine that will be assessed to the Nuggets from his paycheck. If it was Kenyon Martin, for example, I’d ask him to forfeit $10,000 of his game check for each of the nine shots he missed from the field. If it was Nene, for instance, I’d ask him to pay up for each of the 33 points Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom combined to score in the paint that he was supposed to have been defending. It doesn’t matter who said it, really. What matters is that the Nuggets have resorted to a different sort of dirty trick than the one that raised Jackson’s ire after Game 4. This was worse than Dahntay Jones tripping Kobe Bryant in that game. This reeked of sour grapes.”

Bud Shaw of The Plain Dealer:  “‘We all know we haven’t got the breaks in this series,’ James said after his desperate heave missed at the Game 4 overtime buzzer. Ben Wallace trying to defend Rashard Lewis with six seconds to go isn’t a bad break. It’s just a really, really bad idea. Dwight Howard getting the ball inside so easily in the overtime wasn’t a bad break. The Cavs have lost 11 of their past 15 games against Orlando. The count this season, which is the more relevant context, is five Magic wins in seven tries. If not for one of the NBA’s greatest players hitting the biggest shot of his career, the Cavs’ record against Orlando could well be 1-6 and James might already be giving NBA Finals studio work a whirl. Look, if you’re the target of a pigeon over and over, that’s not a bad break. It’s deeper than that. It probably means you’re a statue. (But enough about the four teammates who watch James dribble at the top of the key, possession after possession, in the fourth quarter.) James has proclaimed the Cavs a ‘no excuse’ team during a season in which they won 66 games and the first eight played in the postseason. So speaking of breaks — like the Cavs on offense and defense — runs counter to what they’ve been about most of the season.”

Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer:  “As the Cavaliers fight to avoid arguably the most disappointing finish to a season in team history, it might be inevitable for some to miss what is going on in the so-far one-sided Eastern Conference finals. It is more than just a subplot, it is downright historic. Which should be realized even if it does turn out to be the spoonful of sugar with some bitter medicine for the Cavs. Not only is LeBron James having the best playoff series of his career against the Orlando Magic, he’s having one of the best series by any player against any opponent in NBA history. His basket at the buzzer to win Game 2 qualifies, seriously, as just the cherry. ‘The stuff he’s doing in this series is unbelievable,’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ‘I’m very proud of our guys to keep hanging in there with what he’s doing.’ That’s not what you’d expect to hear from a team up, 3-1, in a series and looking for the close-out in Game 5 tonight at The Q, but Van Gundy isn’t giving lip service. James’ numbers are astounding, and the way he’s executing has been even more eye-popping.”

Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:  “The Cavs, the team with the best regular-season record (66-16) and the best player, will try to avoid elimination in Game 5 tonight at Quicken Loans Arena. If necessary, Game 6 is in Orlando on Saturday and Game 7 back in Cleveland on Monday. History is on Orlando’s side to advance to the Finals, against either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Denver Nuggets. Only eight of 182 teams in NBA history have ever dug themselves out of a 3-1 hole in a seven-game series. Van Gundy doesn’t want to hear about the percentages that favor his team. Immediately after the Magic’s Game 4 win, he told his players they hadn’t really done anything yet. ‘You would have thought we had lost,’ cracked forward Rashard Lewis. All Van Gundy can envision is a nightmare scenario — LeBron James reviving the Cavs to win three straight games. ‘This is a heckuva basketball team.’ Van Gundy said. ‘So it is going to be really difficult. I don’t know how everybody else is. I don’t feel like we’ve gotten anything done yet in this series.”

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:  “Why was Shaquille O’Neal sitting courtside at the Magic’s huge Game 4 overtime victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night? Who sent him an invitation to the party? He was more out of place than Rush Limbaugh dancing the night away to the Dixie Chicks at Barack Obama’s inauguration ball. Can you believe it? The guy who destroyed the franchise 13 years ago when he bolted for L.A., actually showed up at the amped-up Am on a night when the Magic and their fans were raucously relishing their resurrection. I realize it’s a free country and Shaq, a 7-foot-1, 350-pound man who lives in Orlando during the offseason, has every right to go wherever he darn well pleases. But my question is this … why? Why would a player who has torn down Orlando’s franchise both symbolically and semantically show up at the Magic’s biggest home playoff game in years? … The Magic have an admirable policy where they take care of their former players and provide them with access to tickets, but in Shaq’s case shouldn’t the policy be reviewed?”

Chris Perkins of the Palm Beach Post:  “‘When you’ve taken the road I’ve taken – you’re in the league for three years, you have to go down to the D-League and work back up – you kind of see the tunnel getting dark,’ said Alston, who became a frequent starter for the first time when he played for the Heat in 2003-04. ‘But I put in the work and I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.’ Alston, an amicable 6-footer with a New York accent, has a past dotted with arrests, questions about his character and doubts about his basketball skills. And that one-game suspension he served in the conference semifinals against Boston for smacking guard Rajon Rondo on the back of the head didn’t help matters. When you consider that backdrop, it’s somewhat amazing that Alston will start for the Magic at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in Cleveland. In fact, Alston’s ability to outplay Cavaliers guard Mo Williams is a big reason the Magic is on the verge of upsetting the team with the NBA’s best regular-season record.”

Tom Moore of  “A source close to the situation said the Sixers are hoping to talk to former Sixers player/TNT broadcaster Doug Collins and ex-Knicks/Heat coach Jeff Van Gundy about the team’s vacant coaching position, though no interviews have been scheduled with either at this time. In an e-mail response Wednesday afternoon, Collins’ Philadelphia-based agent John Langel said, ‘I have nothing to offer.’ The source also confirmed that Sixers president Ed Stefanski has conducted a second interview with Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey, though the Sixers declined comment. Casey is the first candidate to interview for the second time. As for Avery Johnson, the source said the former Mavericks coach apparently doesn’t think he should have to interview like the other candidates. That makes it unlikely that he will talk to Stefanski about the job.”

Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee:  “The NBA’s Be-Careful-What-You-Wish-For event began here Wednesday, when representatives from around the league came on the scene that has changed so much since the last time around. Predraft camp – which relocated from Orlando, Fla. – no longer includes the playing of basketball. After years of complaints from teams that the elite prospects hardly ever attended, the element that kept them away – the scrimmage – was removed, and the cast of characters is almost full again. But it’s a tease, really, like seeing LeBron James sitting courtside at the dunk contest and knowing he won’t participate. Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin, the consensus No. 1 pick, is here like most of the big-name prospects for the June 25 draft in New York. He will be weighed, measured, asked to jump and perform agility drills. And he will be interviewed, which is perhaps this event’s most relevant aspect in its current structure. Teams can request 18 interviews, as they try to learn more about each player’s mental makeup while conducting the session in a hotel room.”

Marc Berman of the New York Post:  “In a more scaled down-version with a name and location change, the NBA Draft Combine — formerly known as the pre-draft camp — has moved from Orlando to Chicago for a two-day event beginning today. Virtually all the expected lottery picks — except for Spaniard Ricky Rubio — will get physicals, perform drills and be interviewed by team personnel. The Knicks select eighth and have little reason to examine the likely top pick, Blake Griffin or UConn’s 7-foot-3 shotblocker Hasheem Thabeet, expected to go 2 or 3. In past years, the camp also featured three days of games but because most first round picks were told by their agents to skip that portion, the NBA abandoned it. The drills — held in a club, Athletes in Action — is being closed to the media for the first time. Each team is allowed seven employees at the workouts. The Knicks’ contingent will be headed by Walsh, coach Mike D’Antoni and senior vice president Glen Grunwald. After the combine, the Knicks will begin private workouts on June 1 at their Westchester compound. Curry has emerged as a front-runner for the Knicks, because the club’s top focus is selecting a scoring, playmaking guard.”

Dan Wolken of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:  “The University of Memphis is responding to an NCAA notice of allegations charging the men’s basketball program with major violations during the 2007-08 season under John Calipari. The allegations include ‘knowing fraudulence or misconduct’ on an SAT exam by a player on the 2007-08 team. The NCAA alleged the prospective player became eligible after an ‘unknown individual’ completed his SAT. The player, said the NCAA, ‘subsequently competed for the men’s basketball team through the 2007-08 season, which included his participation in the 2008 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.’ The player’s name was redacted in the report, obtained by The Commercial Appeal on Wednesday through the Freedom of Information Act, because of privacy laws. The player has subsequently denied the charge, according to university personnel. The only player on the roster who competed only during that season was Derrick Rose, who subsequently was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft last June.”

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports:  “The only person at Memphis accused in the report of paying players is (go figure) the women’s golf coach. This is all nice and true but it’s also completely in line with the long history of NCAA infraction cases where the head coach never knows what’s going on. The blame almost always falls on one of three people 1.) a greedy player, 2.) a rogue booster or 3.) a bumbling assistant. The head coach is always innocent. In this case, it’s the redacted Rose, the likeable NBA Rookie of the Year, who gets the heat. In the NCAA letter, first reported by Dan Wolken of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, they go so far as decry his deportment in a sentence that can only be described as pure unintentional comedy: ‘[Rose] failed to deport himself in accordance with the high standards of honesty and sportsmanship normally associated with … intercollegiate athletics,’ the letter reads. High standards of what? In college sports? You know, Derrick Rose has always come across as a nice, quiet, hard-working guy. He was that way when he was a Chicago Simeon High star and he’s that way now that he’s a Chicago Bulls star. Maybe it’s the NCAA’s supposed ‘high standards of honesty’ that are the issue, not Derrick Rose.”

(Photo by Noah Graham NBAE/Getty Images)

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