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February 26, 2008

40 Before 20

Phil Jackson has always said that you can tell a team is great when it wins 40 before it loses 20. Tonight, the Lakers accomplished just that, beating Portland 96-83 to improve their record to 40-17.

The Lakers now have won nine in a row, and they have the best record in the Western Conference. It appears that Kobe Bryant's finger is not going to be a problem. Pau Gasol has gelled more quickly than anyone could have possibly imagined, and he's every bit as good as advertised. Gasol's presence has put less pressure on Lamar Odom, who is now playing the best basketball I've ever seen him play. He's utilizing his length to get rebounds, and he's creating opportunities for others. Odom also is getting more open shots as defenses are having enough trouble with Kobe and Gasol. In the meantime, Sasha Vujacic has suddenly looked like a legitimate NBA player, Jordan Farmar continues to look strong, and Derek Fisher is a steadying influence. Imagine how good the Lakers can be when Andrew Bynum comes back.

It's time for NBA writers to start considering Phil Jackson for Coach of the Year, as he's made all of this work out much better than anyone could have thought. Kobe Bryant should get serious consideration for the MVP award with his unselfish and team-oriented play this year. And Mitch Kupchak may finally win an Executive of the Year Award, having made the best deadline deal and also having made the right call on not giving up Kobe cheap. Every one of his moves seem to be working out well this season.

February 16, 2008

No moment of silence for Officer Simmons

In December I noted that the Kings held a moment of silence for Stu Nahan before a game at Staples Center. The team just got home from a long road trip, so the day that Los Angeles buried LAPD officer Randal Simmons would have been the first chance to honor him. The organization chose to pass on that, apparently. A fan writes to the Let's Go Kings website:

To the Los Angeles Kings management,

I want to communicate to you how shocked and disappointed I am in AEG and the KINGS for failing to acknowledge Officer Randy Simmons's sacrifice at tonight's Calgary vs. Los Angeles Kings hockey game.

Friday, February 15th 2008 is a day where the entire city of Los Angeles stopped to salute and honor one of her Finest Sons. I am curious as to why the KINGS Organization did not acknowledge a true hero of the city they claim they "play" for?
Why wasn't there a moment of silence? Was it a lack of awareness? A lack of respect? Please do not tell me that it was an oversight. This season the Kings have done a good job of recognizing members of the various armed services, but when it came to honoring a Public Servant who made the ultimate sacrifice for the citizen's of Los Angeles the Kings and AEG failed.

After the Brush Fires this past fall, where several fire fighters were lost, the Kings held several fund raising events for those fire fighters and their families. I am really disheartened to see that on the day when the entire city honored a true hero, the KINGS organization did not have the respect, insight and heart to do the right thing and take a few moments to recognize Officer Simmons' sacrifice. There were LAPD officers who probably just came from the funeral working tonight’s game! What message did the Kings send to them?

The loyal fans and season ticket holders in my section were appalled. I spoke to a representative of the Kings that was near my section during the first period and he did not have a response other than to say he was sorry but I could see in his eyes that he realized the Kings messed up....

AEG and the Kings you should be ashamed of yourselves for your lack of vision. There were fans from Calgary who were on road trips that were commenting on how sad it was to hear about Officer Simmons death and they wondered why nothing was said at tonight's game.

It is truly sad that the only King who showed support for Officer Simmons is the Burger KING that donated all of the proceeds from an entire day to the Police Memorial fund.

I am curious to hear a response from the organization.

Am I off base here? Was anyone else wondering why there was no moment of silence? If so please post your comments and also share them with the Kings Organization.

Comments from other fans at the site mostly disagreed with him.

February 15, 2008

Finger Roll

Just when it seemed like nothing was stopping the Lakers, we learn that Kobe Bryant's finger injury is more serious than initially thought. Bryant has torn a ligament in the pinkie finger, but he is vowing not to miss any time.

While everyone from doctors to reportedly Jerry Buss has recommended that he have surgery, Bryant will try to play through it. To make matters worse, Bryant will play in the NBA All-Star Game, because league rules require him to sit out a game if he misses the All-Star Game. However, Western Conference Head Coach Byron Scott said that he'd take Kobe out after just a few minutes if that's what he wanted.

Bryant's toughness is certainly admirable, and most Laker fans know they've got no shot at a title with him sitting out six weeks for surgery. But one can't help but worry if Bryant can make it through the season with nine fingers. How much will this affect his shooting and dribbling? Could this impact his career down the road in any way?

The Lakers next game is Tuesday night at home against Atlanta.

February 14, 2008

Sports Beat, 2-14-08

--The Lakers just completed a 7-2 road trip, the best 9-game continuous road trip in NBA history. It's clear now that after trading for Pau Gasol, the Lakers have become a great team in a hurry. Kobe and Pau are already playing like a dynamic duo, and Lamar Odom has suddenly become a super role player, earning a triple-double in last night's win at Minnesota.

The Lakers have done all of this without Andrew Bynum, without a reasonable amount of practice time to get Gasol adjusted to the triangle, and with Kobe suffering from a dislocated finger. Hopefully, Bryant will sit out the All-Star Game and give his body a much-needed rest.

In the meantime, it's time for Mitch Kupchak to get some of the credit he deserves. Kupchak has been blasted by fans and writers for years, but he's turned an extremely difficult situation into a dynamic one. He saw something special in Andrew Bynum when others didn't want to take a chance on him. He refused to get only 50 cents on the dollar in a Kobe trade this summer. He's built a lineup with several late draft picks like Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, and Ronny Turiaf. And now he's found a way to bring Pau Gasol to LA for almost nothing significant.

The trade was so good for the Lakers that San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been whining about it for days.

"What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension," Popovich told SI.com. "There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I would have voted no to the LA trade."

It's nice that Popovich can imagine something like a trade committee in his head, and then magically appoint himself to that committee, but the point is that the coach of the defending champs is worried.

--Laker fans don't have wonderful memories of Devean George, but today he's pretty popular in LA. The former Laker and current Dallas Maverick successfully blocked a Jason Kidd-to-Dallas deal through an obscure NBA rule that effectively gave George a no-trade clause. It's still very possible that the Mavs will work something else out with New Jersey, but Laker fans have to love George's role in what's become a "Buy a Superstar Sweepstakes" in the Western Conference.

Last night George went 0-for-11 from the floor, scored zero points, and was booed right and left by the Dallas fans. In the meantime, I'm trying to think of a single game when George actually took 11 shots when he was with the Lakers.

--Over in Phoenix, former Laker Shaquille O'Neal still hasn't suited up for the Suns, but he has found the time to get into an argument with Bill Walton. On ESPN, Walton criticized Shaq for being injured in Miami, but suddenly healthy enough to play in Phoenix.

"Shaq's arrogance is an insult to people who think," Walton said.

Shaq responded, "I looked at what Mr. Walton has done and I looked at what Mr. Walton has said, and one thing I hate is a hypocrite. So if I'm faking an injury, his whole injury-plagued career is a fake. Here's a guy who only played one or two seasons injury-free, and now he's talking about me being injured."

Shaq closed, "Mr. Walton has broken the big man ordinance code 225.27 - no big man under should talk about a big man above."

--Great news at USC, as it appears that the University and the Coliseum have a deal in place that will keep the Trojans playing near campus. USC does have an opt-out in two years if the Coliseum can't make improvements in a timely manner.

Part of the agreement hinges on a naming rights deal, and Coliseum Commission officials told the LA Times that naming rights could fetch as much as $5 million a year. I find that figure hard to believe, but I could be wrong. A look at naming rights deals across sports reveals very few stadiums commanding more than $5 million a year. Additionally, existing stadiums tend to make less in naming rights than brand new stadiums. I've been surprised before though, and football stadiums do seem to command more money despite hosting fewer games, but I'd love to meet the company that will pay that much.

--Pitchers and catchers reported for the Dodgers yesterday in Vero Beach. They report today in Tempe for the Angels.

February 8, 2008

Sports Beat, 2-8-08

--Both USC and UCLA hauled in fairly impressive recruiting classes. Depending on who you read (Rivals.com, Scout.com, ESPN.com and about 20 other sites all have lists), USC's recruiting class is ranked anywhere from No. 6 to No. 15. UCLA's is ranked as high as No. 9 and some have them just outside the top-20.

For USC, it's actually the least heralded recruiting class in over five years. But Trojan fans shouldn't be concerned, as Pete Carroll addressed both the offensive and defensive lines, and strengthened his defense. USC didn't need much help at the skills positions like quarterback and running back, so that's why they're ranked a bit lower this year.

On the other hand, UCLA did get plenty of talent at the skill positions, and Bruins fans have to be pleased with Rich Neuheisel's success in hanging onto most of the top guys that Karl Dorrell recruited. Part of that is due to defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker staying on. But adding Norm Chow to the staff probably helped too.

I'm not nearly as into recruiting classes as some other people. It's incredibly difficult to evaluate high school players who are still developing, and the prep school competition can vary dramatically. But based on the opinions of these so-called experts, it appears USC and UCLA are in good shape moving forward.

--After a win over the Nets, the Lakers flew to Atlanta and fell to the Hawks. The team's obscenely long road trip continues tonight in Orlando. So far, it seems like the team has become energized by the addition of Pau Gasol. It will take time for him to find a niche in the offense, and it will take even more time for the pieces to fit when Andrew Bynum comes back. But for now, Laker fans have to be encouraged by what they're seeing.

--I generally cover LA sports here only, but the shocking trade of Shaquille O'Neal to the Phoenix Suns can't go unnoticed on LAO. To be perfectly honest, I don't get it. Shaq is a poor fit for the Suns' run-and-gun style. He has always been best in the half-court game, and he's playing the worst basketball of his career right now. At 35, Shaq is a shell of his former self, hobbled by injuries and his own distaste for conditioning.

I find it hard to believe that the Suns acquired Shaq as an overreaction to the Lakers trade of Pau Gasol. I also disagree with those who say the Suns up-tempo style can't win in the playoffs. Last year they lost to the Spurs when Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended, and corrupt NBA referee Tim Donaghy was blowing the whistle. The year before, Stoudemire was out for the whole year. There's no reason why the west-leading Suns couldn't have competed seriously for a title this year. Now, who knows how Shaq will gel with this group, and who can do all of the work that Shawn Marion did.

One thing we do know is that the media will find plenty of drama to hype when the Lakers play the Suns next.

--in the meantime, the struggling Clippers need to figure out what to do about Sam Cassell. The point guard admitted he's not happy with losing, but added that he's not seeking a buyout. The Clippers probably want to trade him, and there are probably plenty of suitors, but salary is a problem. The NBA requires salaries to be within 15% of each other in trades, and the Clippers probably don't want add a bad contract just to get rid of Cassell.

--Washington State is about to drop out of the Pac-10, but it's never easy to beat the Cougars. UCLA took care of business last night in Pullman, winning 67-59. Darren Collison scored 18 points, and when he's playing well, I'm not sure who can beat the Bruins.

USC was in Seattle last night, and beat Washington 73-59. The good news for the Trojans is that it appears Daniel Hackett is fine after he suffered a hip pointer in last week's loss to Arizona. Hackett is the one player who USC has never proven they can win without.

--The LA Galaxy will have a much more reasonable schedule this year, allowing David Beckham to play a normal season. Also, England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008 should mean we'll see more of Beckham out here in Los Angeles. This year will be the real test of Beckham's value to the Galaxy and the LA sports scene.

--Good news for USC fans, as it appears the University is making significant progress in its negotiations with the Coliseum Commission. The two sides are reportedly close to a deal that would keep the Trojans near campus.

February 1, 2008

Pau-er play

The Lakers made a huge trade today, acquiring Pau Gasol from Memphis for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and two draft picks. Gasol immediately takes the Lakers to another level. He has superstar talent. He's a 7-footer who can run the floor, pass, rebound, and he has some great footwork in the post.

Gasol has not hid his desire to leave Memphis, and he did struggle a bit last year with a broken foot. But good NBA players have a tendency to be great when they're happy. Gasol isn't cheap, but his contract is in line with a player of his ability. He does commit a few too many turnovers, but it's not a major issue. Losing Kwame Brown won't upset too many people in Los Angeles. Crittenton has upside, but he was expendable with Jordan Farmar's considerable improvement this season. The Lakers first round draft picks were probably going to be late anyways, so losing them isn't too problematic.

When Andrew Bynum comes back from injury, the Lakers will have a front line of Bynum, Gasol, and Lamar Odom, which should be as good as any in the West. Add Kobe Bryant to the mix, and you've got a special team. Now the one question is how quickly Gasol can learn the triangle and adjust to Phil Jackson's system.