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There are two ways a Laker fan could react to yet another loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. One would be to not worry and say, “We’ll get ’em in June.” To support this point, a Laker fan would bring out the fact that the Orlando Magic, whom the Lakers beat 4-1 in the NBA Finals, swept the Lakers in the regular season last year.
The other way would be to express legitimate concern that the Cavaliers might indeed have their number. C.A. Clark from SB Nation’s Lakers blog Silver Screen and Roll chose option number two.
Last year, Cleveland was one of the best teams in the league, even winning the most regular season games. Then, they ran into an Orlando Magic team that was just a bad match-up for them. They couldn’t beat the Magic, because they didn’t have the personnel to deal with Dwight Howard and the duo of tall, athletic forwards Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. Why am I bringing this up? Because I can’t fight the feeling that this describes the Cavs-Lakers this year. L.A. is a great team, definitely one of the league’s best. They could very easily end up with a record superior to Cleveland. They might even still be considered the better overall team, compared to the league in general. But, as these two games have shown, Cleveland has proven to be a bad, bad match-up for L.A. If the two teams meet in the Finals, and my life were on the line, I’m ashamed to admit which way I’d bet.
The biggest problem? Cleveland’s defense shut down the Lakers’ offense yet again. After a first-quarter explosion, the Lakers scored just 60 points in the final three quarters. Clark has run out of ideas to jumpstart the offense.
I can’t discount this result as just another game, because, for the 2nd straight game, I saw Cleveland shut the Lakers offense down, and for the 2nd straight time, I couldn’t think of a rational way the Lakers could adjust. If Cleveland isn’t required to double on one of the Laker big men, our offense isn’t going to work, and we’ve seen ample evidence that neither Pau Gasol nor Andrew Bynum can efficiently score in one on one situations against that team. If the Cavs can aggressively double Kobe without the Lakers finding open shots, the team will struggle to score, and that’s exactly what has happened in the pivotal moments of two different games.
I mean, I guess so. But here’s the thing: the Lakers weren’t really holding true to the Triangle offense even early on. Bryant took 16 shots in the first half and 31 for the game. You can’t begrudge him too much if his shot is on, but rather than let the game come to him, like LeBron James did, Kobe dominated the ball in the early going. Had Bryant taken more of a backseat and gotten his big men involved, they likely would have been in a better rhythm down the stretch and would have scored on the Cavaliers.
Again, it’s tough to blame Kobe, but maybe the Lakers’ offense would have functioned better if he took a different approach to last night’s game.
Missed the Lakers-Cavaliers game the first time? Watch the highlights to get some idea of how intense and tight this game was.
Cleveland, OH (Sports Network) - LeBron James' layup in traffic with 40.5 seconds to play gave Cleveland the lead for good, as the Cavaliers rallied past the Los Angeles Lakers, 93-87, at Quicken Loans Arena.
James scored 37 points with nine assists and five rebounds, while J.J. Hickson notched a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds and Shaquille O'Neal added 13 points and six boards. Anderson Varejao added 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench for the Cavaliers, who have won the first two games on a three-game residency.
James picked up the slack in the backcourt in the absence of Mo Williams, who will miss the next four-to-six weeks with a left shoulder sprain.
It was a season sweep for the Cavs, who also beat the Lakers on Christmas Day, 102-87, at Staples Center. Cleveland has won seven of the last nine meetings.
Kobe Bryant became the youngest player to 25,000 career points with a late second-quarter free throw and finished with 31 points, but he needed 31 shots to do it and grabbed only two rebounds. Pau Gasol donated 13 points with eight rebounds and Lamar Odom notched 10 points with 10 boards for the Lakers, who entered with the NBA's best record and started an eight-game road trip in Cleveland.
James broke a tie game with an end-to-end layup for an 89-87 lead with 40.5 seconds left, but Gasol was fouled on the other end with 24.1 seconds to play. The 85 percent foul shooter missed both, and James was fouled with 21.2 seconds remaining. He made the first, but missed the second, only to have the whistle blow for a loose ball foul on the Lakers. Varejao stepped to the foul line and made both attempts for a 92-87 edge with 20.7 seconds left and Cleveland held on from there.
Full recap coming shortly, but we just witnessed the following happen in the last 2:04.
-Lakers tie the game.
-Pau Gasol misses two gimmie layups
-LeBron James goes one on five for a breathtaking layup to give Cleveland the lead for good.
-Gasol gets fouled, missed two straight free throws despite being an 86% free throw shooter
-LeBron makes one of two free throws, but Anderson Varejao, despite being double-teamed on the rebound, gets fouled by Ron Artest.
You hate to make too much of “clutch” play, but … one team melted down in the final stretches and the other team did just enough to win. Hats off to Cleveland for a great win without a key player against a great team.
Cleveland’s last few possessions have ended the same way: LeBron James, isolated at the top of the key, dribbling the shot clock out before finally shooting a contested jumper. Tonight, he’s hitting his twos and missing his threes, but you certainly wish the Cavaliers would do something a little more … creative.
Anyway, Cleveland took a seven-point lead, but the Lakers cut it to four on a Ron Artest three and now have the ball with two minutes left. Here. We. Go.
LeBron James just hit a three to give the Cavs an 83-80 lead with 5:23 left, but the noteworthy item here is that Phil Jackson has held Kobe Bryant out for the majority of the fourth quarter. He just called a timeout to get Kobe back into the game, but it’ll be interesting to see what type of effect that decision will have down the stretch.
Whatever happens, this has been fun, even if Kobe and LeBron are shooting a lot.
To be fair, there's never really a good time to have technical difficulties (unless Reggie Miller is misinterpreting a Marv Albert joke ... sorry Reggie). And I guess it would have been worse if it was at the very end of the game.
But at the beginning of the fourth quarter, TNT's video feed went out for a couple minutes, which forced viewers to look at this image instead of live action.
You can kind of sense a change in the momentum of the game. Down by double-digits in the first quarter, the Cavaliers have fought back and now have a 63-61 lead late in the third quarter.
Also, Kobe Bryant is now guarding LeBron James. When Kobe gets switched onto the other teams' top player, you know it's getting serious.
Finally, in case you were wondering, Phil Jackson isn't scared of LeBron James. (HT: Jose3030, again. Most. Valuable. Tweeter).
We’ve reached halftime in Cleveland, and led by Kobe Bryant’s 20 points, the Lakers lead the Cavaliers 46-44. The Lakers jumped out to a big early lead, hoping to make a statement after the Cavaliers blew the Lakers out in LA on Christmas Day, but the Cavs have crawled back into the game.
LeBron James has 18 points, including one wicked move on Kobe at the end of the quarter. James drove left and made a really quick spin back right as Kobe went sprawling on the floor. Bryant tripped James to foul him instead of conceding the layup, so James got two free throws.
Here, see for yourself.
Of course, Reggie Miller defended Kobe getting crossed up, saying Kobe merely was "off-balanced," so it’s not the same. Right. Because when someone normally gets crossed up, they do much more than lose balance. Oh-kay.
This one’s been as good as advertised. Stay tuned.
You do not want to mess with Kobe Bryant tonight. That is all.
Kobe’s got 19 points already and just went over the 25,000 point plateau earlier in the quarter. He’s the youngest player ever to reach 25,000 points, and while he had a head start from coming into the league at age 18, it’s still an incredibly impressive feat.
Nevertheless, the Cavs are rallying and trail by just two as I write this. Whaddaya know, their bench came in and stabilized things, and the starters started to pick it up. Meanwhile, the Lakers bench continued to struggle, as Jordan Farmar apparently made a fundamentally wrong Triangle offense play, argued with Phil Jackson about it and was promptly benched. Cleveland’s bench has outscored the Lakers’ bench 9-2. Remember when we said this was going to be a key?
Also, Marv Albert at one point said Lamar Odom preferred to dribble with his left hand, which makes sense because … he’s left-handed. Who turned Marv Albert into Reggie Miller?
Speaking of Craig Sager, his ... ahem ... attire needs no introduction. I could post a bunch of pictures of Sager's past suits, but I prefer that you guys not vomit while reading SB Nation.
I actually didn't think his suit tonight was so bad, by Sager's standards. But Phil Jackson obviously did, judging by the expression on his face in this picture.
By the way, Kobe Bryant now has 16 points. But sure, the finger's really hurting.
We’re one quarter in, and the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant’s 12 points, have a 27-18 lead. We’ve already heard Marv Albert echo one of his classic “FAST START” lines to describe Bryant’s play thus far.
Why do I bring this up? Because Kobe Bryant is hurt. He has a finger injury, which he’s seemingly had since 2008. YOU HEAR THAT, EVERYONE! KOBE BRYANT IS A WARRIOR! A WARR-I-OR! HE IS A BASKETBALL PLAYER! (sorry, Jon Gruden just took over my computer).
In case you didn’t know that, Craig Sager kindly devoted his first-quarter report to Kobe’s finger injury and all the amazing things the Lakers are doing to fix it up. Again, we’re talking about an injury Kobe Bryant has supposedly suffered through for at least a year, and yet, he still keeps on playing as if nothing is wrong. So why is this news again?
Oh, that’s right, because he’s Kobe Bryant, and we must know that he’s somehow more than just a transcendent basketball player. He’s also a tough basketball player with a ferocious will to never take a game off, even if it means he’s breaking the offense to shoot tons of shots against the New Jersey Nets. I don’t doubt that Kobe is hurting, but everyone’s hurting around this time. We’ve never heard of any of LeBron James’ aches and bruises, yet we keep hearing about Kobe’s finger. Why?
Earlier today, you probably read SB Nation’s Andrew Sharp kick off his weekly NBA Talking Points with a discussion of championship-winning role players that every team seems to have. (If you haven’t read it, click here, read it, and come back). Sharp termed a new phrase for these guys, calling them “Poseys” after the venerable James Posey, a key cog in two title-winning teams recently (Miami in 2006, Boston in 2008).
What’s a “Posey?” Sharp explains:
We’re talking about athletic swingmen that can defend the other team’s best player, and on the offensive end, stretch the court with perimeter shooting. Every title team since the Kobe/Shaq Lakers has had one. Last year, it was Trevor Ariza making crucial steals and backbreaking 3s for the Lakers in the playoffs. The year before, James Posey played the role to a T for Boston. For all of those Spurs titles, there was Bruce Bowen—killing teams with the corner three, and harassing superstars on defense. For Detroit in 2004, Tayshaun Prince did the same thing. For Miami in 2006, it was James Posey again.
Every year, the title team has a guy like Posey, always on the court for his defense, and with a knack for making big plays on offense. So why not just call this weird position a “Posey”? When you imagine the “glue guy” or “role player” that I’m describing, there’s a good bet you’re imagining Posey*, or maybe Bowen. So “Posey” it is.
This of course begs the question – which players on the Lakers and Cavaliers are “Poseys?” Here’s a few candidates:
Anthony Parker: The 34-year old may not have much NBA experience, but as a member of Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel-Aviv before the NBA, he’s been in his share of big games. Parker’s the Cavaliers player asked to check the opponent’s top perimeter scorer, and he can also handle the ball pretty well for a shooting guard. Throw in his outstanding stroke (second in the league in three-point percentage), and he’s everything you’d want.
Delonte West: Is he a little smaller than ideal? Probably. But West is a ferocious defender despite his lack of size (just ask Gilbert Arenas), a brilliant ball-handler who rarely turns it over, and is equally adept at spotting up off someone else’s penetration or, if necessary, creating a shot for himself when the Cavaliers’ offense inevitably stumbles.
Anderson Varejao: An annoying frontcourt player, so perhaps not the best comparison, but if you crafted the frontcourt version of a Posey, Varejao, because of all the little things he does, would head the list.
Jamario Moon: Moon still takes bad shots sometimes, but he’s extremely athletic, a great defender and a fantastic finisher in transition.
Notice anything about this list? They’re all Cavs. Who can be that “Posey” for the Lakers? Ron Artest has the game, but who can trust him to keep that temperament in the playoffs? Derek Fisher has really slowed down, and is essentially starting because the Lakers can’t find anyone better. Other than those two, which bench guy can step up? The Lakers might need to make a trade to fill the vacancy left by Ariza’s departure to Houston.
What’s that? Game’s starting? Okay, I’m out.
Alright, so who's pumped for arguably the biggest game of the season (outside of the Christmas Day game, of course)? THIS GUY!
Okay, I'm going to try to chill. But seriously, this game should be fun, even with Cleveland missing Mo Williams. They're always tough at home (39-2 last year, and that last loss was when they rested their starters), so they'll come out strong even if undermanned. Who did their one other loss come against? You guessed it, the Lakers. This should be fun.
I'll be here all night to talk about a wide range of topics. Everything from the Lakers' defensive scheme on LeBron James to Marv Albert's toupee is fair game. So with that, here's my first thought: Chris Webber, you fail for putting Jamal Crawford on your all-star team over Joe Johnson. There's nothing more to say.
So let's watch some LeBron/Kobe puppets and GET EXCITED!
It’s nothing special, but in anticipation of tonight’s uber-hyped matchup between Kobe and Lebron, the media will jump at any morsel handed down from either superstar. With that in mind, you can be sure you’ll hear about Kobe’s quick thoughts today at shootaround. According to Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Kobe dismissed the Cavs-Lakers matchup, saying it’s “Not a rivalry,” and said that if Lebron entered the dunk contest, he be a “Close second to Shannon Brown.”
But it’s times like this when it behooves us to remind ourselves that Kobe does not, in fact, always deliver this sort of bland, unimaginative trash talk. And besides, Kobe’s got plenty of respect for Lebron.
To wit, please listen to this scathingly NSFW clip from the Jamie Foxx radio show. Starting at 3:40, he tells a pretty ridiculous story about Kobe. Jamie Foxx and his entourage are just as entertaining. Samples:
Kobe on the Celtics: "What the F— they got to do with ME?
Kobe on Lebron: “He’s a bad motherf——”
Kobe on Jamie Foxx’s Mavericks allegiance: “Why would you do that? You a winner baby. Why would you do that?”
Kobe may be offering subversive jabs at the Cavs and Lebron this afternoon, but something tells me that behind closed doors, he’d be a whole lot more entertaining. If only Jamie Foxx were behind those closed doors…
We all know about the stars (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant), the sidekicks (Pau Gasol, Shaquille O'Neal, Mo Williams before his injury, Ron Artest) and the coaches (Phil Jackson, Mike Brown). Looking for something different to talk about?
Look no further than bench play. Those minutes in the second quarter and the end of the third quarter/beginning of the fourth quarter matter just as much as those at the end of the game. We may forget about them, but they're essential. Who has the advantage?
Normally, the Cavaliers, by a mile. Cleveland's bringing three starters from last year's 66-win team off the bench this year (Delonte West, Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas). Throw in free agent pickup Jamario Moon and role-playing starters Anthony Parker and J.J. Hickson, and the Cavs have a nine-man rotation that can play any style, match up to any team and wear you down slowly, but surely.
That's exactly what happened last time these teams played. Cleveland's bench outscored LA's bench 31-17, and it was more than scoring. The Cavs brought in Ilgauskas to give them size against LA's imposing front line and played Moon significant minutes to help out on Kobe. It worked, tremendously.
But Cleveland's bench is going to be depleted tonight. Mo Williams is already injured, which thrusts West into the starting lineup and little-used Daniel Gibson back into the rotation he fell out of several weeks ago. Moon's also not going to play due to injury, which accelerates Jawad Williams (who?) into the rotation. The tight nine-man rotation has dropped to seven, and for a team with much less top-level talent than the Lakers, that's significant.
Meanwhile, the Lakers' bench has been abysmal at times this year. According to SB Nation's Silver Screen and Roll, the Lakers' bench averages the fewest points per game in losses in the league by far, and they also haven't helped much in other areas. This is a top-heavy team, to say the least.
But things are starting to turn around, and Silver Screen and Roll has many reasons why that's happening. Those reasons include: the return to health of Gasol and Andrew Bynum (which moves Lamar Odom back to the bench, where he can stabilize the second unit), a shortened rotation, the resurgence of Jordan Farmar and the unexpected strong play of dunk contest participant Shannon Brown.Suddenly, the Lakers can roll out Odom, Brown, Farmar and Luke Walton off the bench, giving them a decent nine-man rotation when everyone is playing well.
In the Christmas Day game, this matchup was very lopsided in favor of the Cavaliers. Tonight, it's more even, at least on paper. Whichever side can get better play from their reserves will win this game.
That bold proclamation was sponsored by Reggie Miller. Reggie Miller, where basic predictions that sound bolder than they are happens.
UPDATE: Mo Williams will miss 4-6 weeks.
So much for both teams being healthy for tonight’s game. Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer is reporting that all-star guard Mo Williams will miss tonight’s game (and possibly more) with a sprained shoulder.
Williams has a left shoulder sprain, a result of a hit he took Tuesday night against the Toronto Raptors as he reached for a steal in the third quarter. He briefly left the game, but returned to play in the fourth quarter and went just 1-of-4 from the field.
The Cavs called it a strain that night but now are calling it a sprain, which technically means there is a tear in the shoulder. The team was not putting any timetable on the injury this morning. Williams is believed to be at the Cleveland Clinic getting tests.
Yikes, that’s a big loss. Williams killed the Lakers when these two teams played on Christmas Day, scoring 28 points on just 13 shots. He tore up Derek Fisher that game, then took his heart out and tore him up again. The Lakers, normally a great defensive team, had no shot guarding him.
Without Williams, Delonte West will get the start, and Daniel Gibson, a postseason hero turned benchwarmer, will be dusted off for reserve minutes.
Coach Mike Brown had this to say (via SB Nation’s Fear The Sword)
“It’s tough,” Head Coach Mike Brown said. “But I like the guys in this locker room and I’m confident other guys will step up. It’s part of the business. You hope he gets better soon but you have to keep going forward.”
It's the biggest regular-season game IN THE HISTORY OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION. It's bigger than the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the Masters and the World Series combined! The ancient Ceasers of Rome would ride out to the amphitheater to see this game live if they could!
Sorry guys, Bill Walton took over my computer for a second. Regardless, tonight's Lakers-Cavaliers game is probably the biggest game of the season to date. Both teams are well-rested, having not played last night. Both teams have made their case for being the top team in the league. The Lakers are sure to want revenge for their embarrassing Christmas-Day loss to the Cavaliers, in which fans got so mad they started throwing foam fingers onto the court.
Join us throughout the day for previews, pre-game analysis and injury updates, and then come back at 8 p.m. Eastern for updates throughout the game. You'll see LeBron, Kobe, Shaq, Gasol, Odom and, yes, Bill Walton's son himself do battle on the hardwood floor.
For now, let's close with the best picture in the history of West ... hey, Bill, step away from my computer already!
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