Game Notes: Hornets at Lakers
Overtime, Little Things, and greats going at it-What More Do you want?
The coolest things about working games: 1) Talking to the most versatile players in the NBA, and 2) Eating an absolutely ridiculous amount of food in the press room for a low one-time charge. (Today’s ridiculously unhealthy media buffet item: “Ice Cream Nachos.” That is a real thing.)
In the Hornet’s locker room, exciting and sadly shackled uber-dynamo Julian Wright says that a regular-season game against the Lakers is important because they know they have to measure how they’re playing, that the Lakers are clearly the best team in the League right now, and they just have to build on what they’re doing right now with 30 games left to go.
When asked about how the locker room felt about the Tyson Chandler non-trade fiasco, Wright says that the locker room is settled down enough and they have the time to make their adjustments and focus on their games and their ultimate goal to get caught up.
He says his goal for the home stretch of the season is to just try and continue to get work in, provide energy and a spark off the bench.
I asked how it is to try and fit in as a playmaker in an offense where one player makes almost all of the plays, and he says that his game is unorthodox, that he’s long and rangy and likes to make plays, and in the NBA you’ve got to find a way to be a force regardless of your situation and build on everything that he’s done on the past, talking about providing an energy and guarding wings, and noting that he has Playoff experience.
In the Lakers’ locker room, I talked to Lamar Odom, who I should note is as great a quote machine as he is a person.
When I tell Lamar about how the NBA’s thing du jour is Michael Lewis’ New York Times article about +/- type analysis, and that he in fact has the highest +/- on the Lakers and one of the best marks in the NBA. I ask him what he thinks he contributes to the team that makes him so effective that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. He says that he tries to move the ball, give his team energy, have a certain type of IQ, provide defense, play the game the right way, and keep his teammates involved.
When asked how the Lakers plan to slow down CP3, Odom says they’ll try to attack him right before he approaches the paint, make him pass out to the perimeter, and try to stop him from getting into the paint and hitting guys on backdoor cuts or waiting for dunks.
I ask if the trades the Lakers made, while not appearing to have a massive basketball impact, have had an impact on the locker room. He responds that it’s like losing two brothers to gain two brothers, that the Lakers are so focused on the group, and that you hate to see it happening but that sports are a funny business, and that everyone knows what their goal is and what they want out of the season.
Lamar Odom makes me love my job even more than the popcorn cart.
– Julian Wright, Pregame: MJ reach-back leaner tomahawk, 360 windmill, huge lefty windmill. In-Game: DNP-CD. FREE JULIAN.
– Really not a playoff atmosphere at Staples to start off with. It should also be noted that even though it’s CP3 and Kobe and an ESPN game, the media room was MUCH less of a cluster of fun than it was for TNT and Kobe-LeBron.
– A nice cheer for Byron Scott during introductions.
– Little things by Lamar Odom in the first quarter: grabs a tough board on both ends, causes a 24-second violation with a pass deflection, gets up in David West’s face and forces him to throw the ball away, makes a hard clear-out cut to the corner and gets the ball, moves it to Kobe, who’s now set up with perfect post position; KB24 hits the cutter for a pair of free throws.
– Kobe’s trying to get turnarounds over Rasual Butler, but they’re not there.
– Peja: five open threes in the first quarter, five misses.
– HEARTY boos for James Posey.
End of First Quarter: LAL 28-20, CP3 1/5 FG, 2 PTS, 4 AST, KB24 2/9, 7 PTS
– A running storyline this game was taking everything I said in my Chris Paul section of my MVP Race column and making me look like a complete jackass for saying it, even though I was mostly going by stats.
“When Chris Paul is off the floor, the Hornets have a point differential worse than the Kings without Kevin Martin.”
– Tonight, the Hornets gain 9 points on the Lakers with Paul sitting on the bench.
– L.O. is playing beautiful defense on the Hornets’ pick-and-roll, sagging down to cut off the home-run pass and clearing out hard to make West’s 18-footers uncomfortable. He’s also starting the breaks with run-outs after he rebounds it and one beautiful full-court outlet to Mamba for a dunk.
Halftime: LAL 45-41, CP3 3-8, 6 PTS, 6 AST, KB24 5-16 16 PTS
– Lamar grabs a rebound, ditches a gambling CP3 at mid-court, and zips a half-court no-look to Pau for a dunk. Straight out of the Magic playbook. Amazing.
– LAL goes zone near the end of the quarter and gets two steals for Fast Break dunks. This one is looking close to put away.
End of Third Quarter: LAL 79-66, KB24 9-23, 26 PTS, CP3 5-11, 12 PTS, 9 AST
9:34 — CP3 with 5 straight points followed by an assist. Hornets looking frisky, 83-76.
– Two more assists, for a three-point shot and play. 85-82.
5:00 — CP3 has cracked the pick-and-roll. 91-89
– Kobe comes in with seven minutes to play (and subsequently goes 1-3 from the field with 1 assist and 2 turnovers in rest of regulation).
– Chris Paul is making dime after dime for open threes or easy layups. Sean Marks makes a free throw to give the Hornets the lead.
– With 2:43, Derek Fisher thinks he has a three-point play but it gets called a charge, drawn by James Posey. 95-93 New Orleans.
– Pau tips in a Lamar Odom missed layup to tie it.
– Posey, of all people, hits the three. 1:15 left, Hornets up three.
– Fisher misses a triple, Posey turns it over.
– With 20 seconds left, Paul steals the ball from Kobe…
– And on a three-on-one break, commits a charge on Derek Fisher.
– One possession left, Pau gets it top of the key, Kobe’s coming to get it, Paul leaves Fisher to deny Kobe the ball, Pau hits Fisher for the tie… And he’s got it.
– Paul for the win on a tough jumper over Fisher… no dice. Overtime at Staples.
– In overtime, Kobe is taking James Posey straight to the post and getting his buckets. This game is now firmly in Kobe’s grasp.
– CP3 fouls out with the Hornets down 4. First time that’s happened to him in a regular season game.
– Antonio Daniels gets an AND 1, Rasual Butler hits a three. It’s 106-105.
– Kobe with the AND 1. You’re not going to believe this, but the Staples Center believes him to be the MVP.
– Rasual Butler. (The other thing I said in my last column: “Paul’s team starts Rasual Butler, for the love of God.” He had 31 points on 20 shots tonight. I’m bad at knowing things.)
– Fisher makes his two free throws, and Posey has a three for double overtime that looks on-line…But no. Game over, Los Angeles absolutely steals it at home.
Phil Jackson says that the Hornets were able to have success with their pick-and-roll in the fourth after the Lakers stuffed it for the first three quarters because they moved their shooters to the other side of the floor and took them out of the corners, that they had some dive plays that were tough to contain, and were able to get shooters at the top of the key.
When asked how he adjusted to Rasual Butler dropping an unexpected 31, he said that Butler hit some tough shots, was the recipient of a lot of plays caused by penetration, and that they certainly respect his shooting.
When I ask Lamar Odom the same question about the pick-and-roll, he replies that they’re going to get it going, especially when they start hitting three-point shots, he’s always going to lean toward the roll guy, and that sometimes you have to pick your poison, and that you know they were going to make a run at some point.
Asked about the final play of regulation, Pau Gasol confirms that Kobe was the first read on the play, but when he saw Kobe was double-covered he made the decision to hit the open shooter in Fisher.
When asked how he stayed involved for 48 minutes without having many plays run for him, Pau laughed and said, “I’m a patient, man.” He then said he tries to take his time, do what it takes to win, and that the Hornets were double-teaming him a lot to get the ball out of his hands.
Derek Fisher, when asked about the crucial charge he drew on Chris Paul, said it was a huge play in terms of momentum, and that he felt Paul was into his shooting motion. Had CP3 pulled the ball out, Fisher would’ve had to foul him, and that he had no idea what the call was going to be when the whistle blew.
When asked how not to get discouraged chasing Chris Paul around every game, he says that you have to be patient and keep in the game and remember that you’re not the only guy and the only team that he does this to. Chris Paul will be an All-Star every year if he stays healthy, Fisher said. He made sure to add that people are going to remember who won the game.
He says he was confident he’d hit the shot.
When I asked Kobe what went through his head when he, a guy who’s used to taking the last shot, thought when Fisher’s ball was in the air, he just said, “It’s good.”
One of the most-repeated arguments in the premier NBA argument is that Kobe is better than LeBron because his outside game is better. And Kobe’s perimeter game is better. But it’s not because Kobe hits the deep threes, or the crazy leaning fadeaways, or the 25-foot bombs with a hand in his face. He is better at doing those things, but that’s not the main reason he’s a better perimeter scorer. Tonight, LeBron went 8-11 from deep on a collection of the toughest shots I have ever seen in my life. There is not a higher degree of difficulty than there was on those shots. LeBron can make any shots. Meanwhile, Kobe couldn’t buy a deep jumper for most of tonight. But when he needed to, Kobe was able to post up, get deep position, and get himself go-to short jumpers that he was able to get and drain with ease. Great perimeter games aren’t about hitting tough shots, they’re about being able to create easy ones.
This game was 20 seconds away from being the Lakers blowing a 13-point lead in the fourth with Kobe fizzling down the stretch while CP3 absolutely took over. Then CP3 made a boneheaded play and had a one-in-a-million charge on a blown three-on-one break and Derek Fisher nailed a three, an absolutely insane sequence of events, and then Kobe got another chance to dominate, which he capitalized on. Almost any conceivable statistical evidence, on any level of advancement, will tell you that CP3 is having a better year than Kobe. But tonight was a microcosm of their year—at the end of the day, a combination of the breaks, skill and timing seem to leave Kobe on top and CP3 on the outside looking in.