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June 26, 2008

NBA draft report

**There will be full analysis of the NBA Draft on my KSCR Radio show this Saturday from Noon to 2 PM, on KSCR.org and 1560 AM.

--The Clippers selected Eric Gordon in the first round today with the No. 7 pick overall. The 6-3 guard averaged more than 20 points a game for Indiana this season, and displayed all-world talent at times. But I can't help to wonder if the Clippers should have taken Arizona's Jerryd Bayless with the pick, who I think Portland got in a steal.

Both players are extremely talented, both are tremendous scorers, and there are questions about both players' ability to play the point guard position. But both players also dealt with unusual coaching situations in college, and Bayless handled his well while Gordon seemed to go into a funk. Gordon may have a bit more upside than Bayless, but Bayless is a gym rat, a mentally strong player, and he's someone who can make players around him better.

If Kelvin Sampson hadn't left Indiana midseason, and if Gordon's wrist hadn't acted up, then it's possible that Gordon could have been drafted No. 3 overall. So from that perspective, the Clippers might have gotten great value. But the Clippers have a long history of taking high-potential picks, and many have proven to be busts. Gordon is better than most of those guys, but if I were Elgin Baylor, I would have taken a hard-working gym rat in Jarryd Bayless.

--The Clippers also picked potential in the second round, going with DeAndre Jordan from Texas A&M. At 6-11 250 pounds, Jordan has a world of upside. Not long ago, people thought Jordan could be a top-10 pick. But Jordan fell into coach Mike Turgeon's doghouse and wasn't even starting by the end of the season. I've heard reports that he wasn't a hard enough worker, and that his lack of desire was on display in the draft workouts. Still, given Jordan's talent, it's probably worthwhile to take a chance on him in the second round.

--The Clippers also traded for NBA D-League prospect Mike Taylor, who might bring them some athleticism off the bench.

--As for the Lakers, they selected Kentucky guard Joe Crawford with the No. 58 overall pick. I'm not even sure if he can make the team. He's a gritty player, and he reportedly worked out well in the Orlando pre-draft camp, but he just may not have the talent to play in the NBA. I was kind of hoping Lakers would take Davon Jefferson out of USC, who could add some size to their lineup, but I guess Mitch Kupchak wasn't enamored with him.

--Looking at the local players drafted, a USC player went No. 3, while UCLA had players go No. 4 and No. 5. OJ Mayo is the highest Trojan ever selected in the NBA Draft. I'm not sure if he's exactly what the Minnesota Timberwolves are looking for, and I still wonder if he'll go somewhere in a trade. But if he stays in Minnesota, then they got themselves a guard who can score and defend extremely well. I still have questions though about Mayo's passing skills if they want him to play point guard. And I also wonder how well Mayo can really drive to the post. But a lot of scouts love him and think he can be a premier NBA player. I read one article comparing Mayo to Gilbert Arenas, which seems like awfully high praise.

I don't think UCLA's Russell Westbrook was the fourth-best player in the draft, but the Sonics got themselves an excellent player. Westbrook is not going to dominate NBA games, but he's the kind of athletic do-everything guard who will help a team win. He can defend, rebound, pass, and dive for the loose ball. Westbrook is a player who will do all of the little things well, and I think every championship team needs someone like him.

A number of people I've spoken with are down on Kevin Love, who went No. 5 overall to Memphis. But I think he can be a very good player in the NBA. Love dropped 15 pounds in the offseason, and I believe he's more athletic than people think. Memphis runs a Phoenix Suns style system, and I see him fitting in well, grabbing rebounds and then throwing precision outlet passes to Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick, and Mike Miller if they keep him. He can shoot from the outside, play down low, and I think he plays bigger than whatever height skeptics think he is.

I'm surprised that Luc Richard Mbah a Moute went as high as he did, to Milwaukee at No. 37 overall. I might be wrong, but I don't see him lasting in the NBA for long. He's too injury prone, and I don't think he's tough enough to play at the next level. If he had chosen to stay in college, then would have had a more impressive senior season with Kevin Love gone, and he might have been taken in the first round. Now he'll have to rapidly improve.

It's disappointing that Davon Jefferson didn't get drafted at all. It makes you wonder why he bothered to come out to the NBA Draft instead of continuing to develop his game at USC. But Jefferson has never been known for his academics, and I guess he just didn't want to be a student any longer. Now he's got to re-evaluate his life because USC is out of the picture.

OJ Mayo and Kevin Love came to LA together, and now they've been traded for one another. The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies just completed a blockbuster 8-player deal with Mayo and Love being the principle pieces. Honestly, I don't quite understand the deal for either team, but maybe it will play itself out over the next few days.

Love now gets to play for Kevin McHale, who he's a big fan of, and he goes alongside Al Jefferson. They both basically play the same position, but I guess they'll find a way to work in Love at center with Jefferson taking on his more natural position at the 4. That seems a bit awkward, but that might be the best way to make it work. As for Memphis, they have a glut of guards, and I'm not sure if the Suns-style system is best for Mayo. They won't be able to leverage his defensive abilities, but I guess he will add some athleticism to the squad. Regardless, it's an interesting chapter in the Mayo-Love story, which came through LA for all of one year.

June 24, 2008

Clipper time

We've been so busy covering the Lakers for the past few weeks that it's easy to forget about the Clippers. Well, the NBA Draft is this Thursday, meaning it's the one week every year when the Clippers are the more intriguing LA-area basketball team (Shaq-Kobe feud not withstanding).

The Clippers currently hold the seventh pick, and the word out of Clipperland is that the Red and Blue are dead-set on taking a guard. Considering Shaun Livingston's injury and Sam Cassell's departure, this is understandable. At No. 7 overall, there's a decent chance the Clippers could wind up with Eric Gordon out of Indiana, who is a terrific talent, but has shown immaturity at times... especially after his coach Kelvin Sampson left. Some mock drafts have shown UCLA's Russell Westbrook falling to the Clippers, but not everyone is convinced that he's a real point guard.

The Clippers are said to covet USC's OJ Mayo and have been rumored to be talking trade with Minnesota to move up to No. 3. Now there are rumors that the Miami Heat may be looking to trade out of the No. 2 spot, which would theoretically put Kansas State's Michael Beasley on the table (not a guard, but an outstanding player), or LA could use that pick on Mayo. The Clippers would also probably be thrilled with drafting Arizona's Jerryd Bayless somewhere.

Trading up might require the Clippers to give Elton Brand to Miami, where Brand once signed an offer sheet to play. ESPN's Chad Ford reports that the Clippers could also wind up with Shawn Marion in such a deal. Ford also reports that the Clippers are talking to Phoenix about trading Corey Maggette and the No. 7 pick for Leandro Barbosa and the No. 15 pick. I don't understand that deal at all from the Clippers standpoint. There is such an enormous dropoff in talent in this draft after the first 10 or 11 players.

The Clippers are entering this off-season with plenty of uncertainty. Both Elton Brand and Corey Maggette have one-year player options worth $16.4 million and $8.4 million respectively. The Clippers say they want to keep both, but neither player has said what he'll do. If both guys opt out, then expect the Clippers to be the worst team in the NBA next season. My guess is that Brand will stay though and continue with his movie producing career. I can't imagine Maggette staying, considering his occasional feuding with Mike Dunleavy and the potential lucrative long-term contract he could sign with another team.

Either way, the historically frugal Clippers will pay several hefty salaries in 2008-09 to Chris Kaman ($10 million), Cuttino Mobley ($9 million), and Tim Thomas ($6 million).

June 23, 2008

Shaq disses Kobe with rap

While Shaq was busy sitting on the couch, watching the NBA Finals after his Suns had been blown out of the first round by the Spurs, it turns out he was coming up with rap lyrics. Shaquille O'Neal's video of him dissing Kobe Bryant, while rapping on stage is making its way around the internet (TMZ).

Are we still fighting over this? Isn't it time that Shaq get over it? While Kobe deserves an enormous share of the blame for his public breakup with Shaq that caused the Lakers to enter a difficult 3-year rebuilding period, it's not as if Shaq is completely innocent either. Shaq helped facilitate the breakup by refusing to sign a contract that would have allowed the Lakers add any meaningful free agents, but the he wound up signing the same deal with the Heat that the Lakers wanted him to all along. His refusal to stay in shape and condition himself on a consistent basis probably cost the Lakers even more titles.

It's true that Kobe hasn't won without Shaq, but Shaq needed Kobe for his 3 Laker titles and he needed 2006 NBA Finals MVP Dwayne Wade to win his fourth in Miami. But unlike Shaq, Kobe still has a few good years ahead of him.

It's interesting to note that since the Shaq-Kobe breakup four years ago, Kobe has continued to take the high road. He hasn't lashed back at Shaq, nor insulted him on any number of things. Yet, Shaq continues to act petulant and bitter, even though he as a title ring, and for whatever reason, he can't move on. He still calls Kobe Bryant "you-know-who" and he refers to Phil Jackson as "Benedict Arnold." Now he comes out with these absurd rap lyrics, after losing in five games to a Spurs team that the Lakers beat in the playoffs, and after being traded from a Heat team that was embarrassingly bad with him in the starting lineup. Well, I think Laker fans will thank Shaq for helping to motivate Kobe next year.

June 17, 2008

Wait until next year

The NBA Finals are over as the Lakers were humiliated in Game 6, losing 131-92. There's really not a whole lot to say about this game that hasn't been said throughout the series. The Celtics proved that they are a better team. Their team defense was absolutely incredible, and they displayed a physical toughness that the Lakers were unable to match. Basketball is a game of matchups, and the Celtics certainly match up better against the Lakers. But the Celtics also displayed more heart and desire throughout the series.

Now that the season is over, it's time for the Lakers to examine several issues heading into next season:

--The biggest question facing the Lakers in 2008-09 is about Lamar Odom. There are times when Odom looks like a superstar, and during this season he thrived as a third option after Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. But Odom was a disappointment in the playoffs, reclaiming his status as the most enigmatic and inconsistent Laker. I'm no longer convinced that Odom can play the small forward position after watching him fail miserably at defending Paul Pierce.

Odom has one year left on his contract at $14.5 million. He turns 29 next season and has some basketball left in him. He's always been an East Coast guy though and there's no guarantee that Odom will re-sign with the Lakers when he becomes a free agent. It may make sense to trade Odom now for someone who's a better fit in the Lakers starting five. His expiring contract may be appealing to some teams that are looking for future cap.

I have no inside information on trade possibilities, but there are some scenarios out there which might make sense. The Bulls might be looking to trade Kirk Hinrich if they draft Derrick Rose, and Odom might work well in Chicago's system. Hinrich could be the Lakers defensive answer to quick Western Conference point guards like Chris Paul and Deron Williams, as Derek Fisher ages. Jordan Farmar certainly didn't make anyone hopeful about his future at point guard with his play later in the playoffs. Other trade possibilities might include Richard Jefferson of the Nets and Shawn Marion of the Heat.

--Vladimir Radmanovic is another problem. He's making over $6 million a year for the next three seasons, but he's been a disappointment since signing with the Lakers last year. Radmanovic might be a better player in the right system, but he doesn't have a role in the triangle and doesn't defend well. I suspect Mitch Kupchak will be making lots of phone calls in the offseason to see if there's any market for Radmanovic. I imagine he'll also try to shop Luke Walton, who had an awful NBA Finals, but he's signed through 2013 (at roughly $5 million a year), and it's hard to imagine any team wanting an unathletic passing specialist.

--The Lakers have four free agents on their squad, the two main ones being Ronny Turiaf and Sasha Vujacic. I don't think too many Laker fans are losing sleep over free agents DJ Mbenga and Coby Karl. Turiaf is an unrestricted free agent and Vujacic is restricted. I'm sure the Lakers would like to bring both of them back. Turiaf has provided a spark off the bench throughout his Laker career and Vujacic's perimeter shooting can come in handy. I'd be surprised if Turiaf stayed though. NBA teams are famous for overpaying big men, and it's hard to see the Lakers going out of their way to outbid anyone for his services. He didn't do much in the Finals when the Lakers sorely needed his physical presence.

Vujaicic is a bit more likely to stay. His game seems to be improving, but it would likely take a contract similar to Luke Walton's to keep him. While he had 20 points in Game 3, he will also be remembered for letting Ray Allen blow by him late in Game 4, and he's had plenty of horrible shooting games. This is a tough call that Kupchak will have to make. It's possible that he'll think there are other available players who can do what Vujacic does.

Chris Mihm and Trevor Ariza also have player options. My guess is that Ariza will elect to stay with the Lakers at $2.9 million. He will likely play a greater role next season as a defensive specialist, and would then command a greater salary in 2009-10. He's also an LA guy and probably wants to stay. I don't know what his agent is thinking though. I think it's very possible that Mihm will opt out of his contract, given his less than minimal role in the playoffs. Although Mihm, could elect to stay for $2.5 million and be loyal to the Lakers after rehabbing him through a seemingly endless series of injuries.

--Many Laker fans think the team will be unstoppable when Andrew Bynum returns from injury next season. But I'm not so sure. Bynum delayed his knee surgery because of the unsuccessful effort to bring him back in time for the playoffs. Now there's questions as to whether or not his rehab will be completed in time for training camp. It's entirely possible that Bynum will come into the season very slowly. And when he does, one has to be concerned about a player who has had serious injury problems throughout his career since high school. That being said, if Bynum is healthy, and if he plays like he did early in the season, then Lakers are the team to beat in the NBA.

--Two people who need to look at themselves in the mirror are Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant. Jackson needs to ask himself why, after winning his first nine NBA finals, he's been out-coached by Larry Brown and Doc Rivers in his last two. Are there adjustments that he needs to make to his coaching style?

As for Bryant, he elevated his game to a new level this season. He learned how to be a facilitator and use his talents to make his team better. However, Bryant has to wonder why he wasn't able to drive to the basket at all in these NBA Finals, and why he wasn't more effective against the Celtics help defense. He needs to ask himself what he can do to get better and take his team over the final hump.

--Pau Gasol needs to hire a personal trainer this offseason and spend some serious time in the weight room. Gasol moves extremely well in the lane, but he was out-muscled by the Celtics all series. As mentioned before, he can't count on Bynum pulling down all of the rebounds next season. They're going to need Gasol to play strong in the post in certain matchups.

--Next season, the New Orleans Hornets will be favored by a number of people to win the Western Conference. The Celtics will also be in position to repeat. Additionally, I expect the Spurs to stay in the mix, the Rockets to be better in Rick Adelman's system with a healthy Yao Ming, the Jazz to continue to be a force, and you can never forget about the Mavericks, Warriors, and Nuggets in what will be a brutally tough Western Conference. And don't forget the Portland Trail Blazers, who have Greg Oden joining a promising young team that includes Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. It's not going to be an easy road back to the Finals at all. But the Lakers certainly have the ability to get back there if Bynum is healthy and if they make the right move with Odom in the offseason.

June 15, 2008

Back to Boston

The Lakers played their best game of the series thus far, and hung on to defeat the Celtics 103-98. The series now moves back to Boston for the duration with the Celtics up 3-2. Despite the win, one doesn't get the sense that the Lakers have had an outstanding 48-minute effort yet in the Finals. The team has had severe defensive lapses, and made multiple inexcusable mistakes.

It almost seems remarkable that the Lakers managed to win this game in spite of themselves. They had a 19-point lead in the first half and 14-point lead in the 4th quarter, yet the game still felt like a nail-biter. Fortunately, for the Lakers, Kendrick Perkins' injury and Kevin Garnett's foul trouble left the Celtics soft in the middle. It seemed like Kobe Bryant recognized that, and deferred regularly in the second half to Pau Gasol (19 points, 13 rebounds) and Lamar Odom (20 points, 11 rebounds). It's not that either player was dominating, but the combination of the two made the difference in tonight's game.

I'm watching the Phil Jackson press conference as I write this, and he just said that the Lakers played hard throughout, but not smart at times. That's a pretty apt way of putting it. If the Lakers have any hope of winning in Boston, then they need to make smarter decisions. They also need to figure out how to guard Paul Pierce, who played all 48 minutes. Pierce has easily been the best player in this series, and with the exception of Game 3, the Lakers have had no answer for him defensively.

Still, the Lakers live to fight another day, and if they find a way to steal Game 6, then anything can happen in a Game 7.

June 13, 2008

LA Football Update

The NFL met with Majestic Realty regarding Ed Roski's stadium proposal in the City of Industry, and it appears to have gone well.

"At their request, the Roski group provided us an update on their stadium project," wrote NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy in an email to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. "Mr. Roski's site certainly seems to present an interesting possibility. The permitting and construction processes seem to be more defined than other sites we have seen."

I'm not sure if the NFL ever used the words "interesting possibility" to describe the Coliseum site, so this is a good step.

I might be wrong, but at this point I see the biggest hurdle to an NFL return being a team's intentions to actually move here. In order for that to happen, a number of stars need to be aligned at the same time. Mike Florio of the well-respected ProFootballTalk.com has an article on the Sporting News web site, outlining 10 scenarios in which the NFL could return to LA, with eight teams cited as relocation candidates. At the top of his list is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who we've mentioned several times before. Los Angeles Jaguars kind of has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Right now the Jaguars are playing in a tiny market and struggling to sell out their stadium.

June 12, 2008

Painful Loss

I'm almost too upset to write anything after the Lakers stunning Game 4 loss to the Celtics. This is probably the third-worst loss in Laker history, only after the team's heartbreaking Game 7 loss to Boston in the 1969 NBA Finals, and the Game 4 loss to the Celtics in 1984.

The Lakers did exactly what the Celtics did in the fourth quarter of Game 2. They got far too complacent with a big lead, and when the game got close, the Celtics played terrific defense and the Lakers played a paranoid schizophrenic offense. Paul Pierce did a remarkable job on Kobe Bryant, and Lamar Odom was a completely different player in the second half after a stellar first half.

People like to say that Game 5 is the most important game in a series, but I think it's Game 4. That's the game which determines whether a series is close or whether one team will be in the driver's seat down the stretch. Well, the Celtics have clear control of this series, and I have no idea how the Lakers will recover. The motivation on Sunday night is to prevent the Celtics from celebrating on the Lakers home floor. I can realistically see the Lakers stealing back Game 5. But they need a million things to break right in order to win two in Boston.

One other note... there's an excellent take on the Tim Donaghy allegations from Mark Heisler today in the LA Times, the nation's best basketball writer.

June 10, 2008

Lakers Take Game 3

The Lakers won an ugly 87-81 victory over the Celtics tonight to cut Boston's lead to 2-1. Here are some observations:

--While the Lakers won, the Celtics are still controlling the tempo of this series, and that's very worrisome. Today was a low-scoring physical defensive affair that is in direct contrast to the Lakers preferred up-tempo style.

--Sasha Vujacic saved the Lakers today. Kobe Bryant is going to get his points. But with Lamar Odom continuing to be ineffective on offense, and Pau Gasol missing everything possible, the Lakers had to get offense from somewhere. Vujacic's 20 points was like a godsend. But if I'm LA, I can't keep counting on that. Gasol and Odom need to step up.

--Paul Pierce finally had a bad game. He had been the best player in the first two games, but the Lakers were able to force him to take bad shots, and he fell back to six points on a putrid 2-for-14 shooting.

--While the Celtics only out-rebounded the Lakers 45-44 tonight, it seems like Boston is getting all of the key rebounds, especially on the offensive end. Ronny Turiaf played 19 minutes and grabbed zero rebounds. That has to change.

--48 hours after he played the game of his life, Leon Powe played only six minutes. I have no idea what Doc Rivers was thinking there. Powe clearly causes matchup problems for the Lakers, so Rivers helped LA out by not playing him.

--Does Vladimir Radmanovic do anything?

--The Lakers need to come out and push the pace in Game 4 on Thursday. They also need to get much better ball movement and execute the triangle. It's not easy against this Celtic defense, but that's why it's called the NBA Finals.

Kings Fire Crawford

In a bizarrely-timed move, the Los Angeles Kings fired head coach Marc Crawford today. While the Kings have been lousy in Crawford's two years, the timing of this move comes as a big surprise. The Kings season ended in April, the NHL Draft is just a week away, and Kings President and GM Dean Lombardi has repeatedly said over the past few weeks that Crawford's job was safe. The timing of the move also prevents the Kings from looking at some potentially qualified coaches, such as the technologically-savvy Ron Wilson, who just signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Crawford seemed like a good hire two years ago. He had won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, and he coached several winning teams with the Vancouver Canucks. However, his style did appear clash at times with the young and developing Kings squad, and he had the two worst seasons of his career. Still, it appeared that the Kings were going to give Crawford another shot, as they continue to build. Then came today's decision.

I'm not sure why the move was made now, but regardless, the Kings need someone who can elevate the games of young guys like Anze Kopitar to the next level. They also need someone who can work extremely well with Lombardi, and who won't mind having little or no input on the No. 2 overall selection in next week's draft.

June 8, 2008

Lakers Fall Short in Game 2

It seemed like the Lakers were left for dead in the fourth quarter, trailing by 24 with just over 7 minutes left. But Kobe and the Lakers would come back to within 2, before finally losing 108-102 at the TD Banknorth Garden. Here are some observations from Game 2:

--Let's be honest. The Lakers only came back to make it interesting because the Celtics fell asleep. There was a premature celebration on the Parquet Floor, but the Celtics forgot that Kobe Bryant is one player who will never give up on a game. Still, the Lakers dug themselves too deep of a hole, and couldn't surpass Boston in the end. I do think the Lakers comeback gives them some confidence though heading back to Los Angeles.

--Where was the Laker defense? If Paul Pierce gets another wide open three pointer, I'm going to throw up. Yes, Pierce is a special player, and he's been the star on the floor for Boston in this series. But it's not that hard for an NBA player to go 4-4 from three-point range when absolutely no one is within 20 feet of him. Pierce's open looks weren't the only problems though. The Lakers became exceptionally lax in transition defense, they allowed Leon Powe to attack the basket, and they just didn't play great team defense in terms of providing help and adjusting to the shooter.

--With all of the NBA head coaching jobs available this offseason, I'm surprised more teams didn't take a serious look at Tom Thibodeau. As the Celtics unofficial defensive coordinator, Thibodeau has drawn up the game plan that's stifled the Lakers' triangle. If the Lakers want to get back in this series, they need to get better spacing and improve their ball movement. Right now, it just doesn't seem like they're rotating properly on offense. Kobe Bryant needs to become more of a facilitator, but he needs his teammates to get open as well.

--The Lakers need to push the tempo more when their bench is in the game. Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, and Ronny Turiaf look bewildered on the court together. In the regular season, it was the Laker bench that provided a spark, ran the floor, and scored points in transition. In this series, it was the Laker bench that got bulldozed and allowed the Celtics to extend their lead.

--Leon Powe is an excellent player. Many Pac-10 basketball observers have known this for some time, and I always felt that Powe would be a very good NBA player after watching him play at Cal. I broadcast one of his games his college, and you could tell that he had the size and physical strength to play at the next level. However, knee surgery in college set Powe back, and he fell to the second round in the 2006 NBA Draft. Tonight, the Leon Powe who scored 21 points, was the player that many people thought he'd become years ago.

--Leon Powe attempted more free throws than the entire Lakers team. I never like to blame the referees, and the Lakers didn't lose because of them. But the officiating was certainly unbalanced. The Lakers had a few too many calls go against them, and at the end of the game, we see that the Celtics attempted 38 free throws versus 10 for the Lakers. Generally, referees favor the home team with calls in playoff games, but tonight was a little ridiculous.

--The Celtics were 64.3% from beyond the arc. Sure they have some great shooters, but again, the Lakers just aren't even guarding them.

--Again, Lamar Odom got in foul trouble and wasn't much of a factor.

--When did Jeff Van Gundy get so candid on the air? He's suddenly become one of the best color commentators in sports television. His quick wit and friendly sparring with Mike Breen and Mark Jackson make these broadcasts far more enjoyable to listen to. When the Lakers were getting blown out early in the fourth quarter, about the only thing that brought a smile to my face was Van Gundy's discussion of Leonardo DiCarpio's girlfriend and his apology to Julius Erving after Jackson dared to compare Leon Powe to Dr. J.

--If the NBA wants to build their game with younger fans, then they have to start these games earlier. We don't notice it here on the West Coast. But the game started well after 9 PM Eastern Time, and didn't end until close to midnight Eastern Time because of the usually high number of commercials in NBA Finals games. The start times are more understandable for weeknight games because us west coasters are usually racing home from work to catch the action. But on a Sunday, there's really no reason to make it such a late night for east coasters. If the game had started two hours earlier tonight, then I really believe that the difference in ratings would have been negligible.

--This series isn't over just yet. The Lakers obviously play better at home, and there is precedent for a team coming back from down 2-0 in the NBA Finals. However, right now, the Celtics sure look like the better team.

June 5, 2008

Celtics Take Game 1

***UPDATE -- I will be hosting a sports talk radio show on KSCR 1560 and KSCR.org on Saturday from noon to 2 PM. I will host the show every Saturday throughout the summer. This week, the NBA Finals will be the main topic of conversation.***

The Boston Celtics showed this is going to be a tight series, winning Game 1 of the NBA Finals 98-88 over the Lakers. Here are a few observations for the game:

--These two teams are more evenly matched than I realized. Both teams' "Big 3" are equally formidable and they match up well against each other.

--The Celtics are a fantastic defensive team. We knew this going in, as Boston was rated as the best defensive team in the NBA. But I guess we discounted this fact too much, perhaps because they played in the East. With the exception of a few well-executed pick-and-rolls in the middle of the game, the Lakers never seemed to get into an offensive rhythm. LA's 88 points was its second-lowest in the playoffs this year, and a far cry from the 110+ point games that we saw against Denver and Utah.

--Boston completely took Kobe Bryant out of the game. I don't think Bryant was a selfish player at all. He had six assists and seemed to be trying to work his teammates in regularly. But he shot 9-for-26 from the field, and it seemed like he was constantly double-teamed and forced into taking horrible shots with few passing lanes in his sights. He never seemed to be able to penetrate the Celtics defense and get into the lane. Bryant only scored four points in the fourth quarter, when he was needed the most. I expect him to come out and get revenge in Game 2. Kobe isn't the type of player who can stand getting beat.

--Paul Pierce's return from his 3rd quarter sprained knee was the clear turning point in the game. The Lakers were unable to hit a few shots when Pierce was briefly in the locker room, and when Pierce returned, the momentum had clearly shifted to the home team. His two quick three pointers punctuated the change in tone. The Lakers shot 5-for-20 in the fourth quarter, and it just seemed as though every bounce when the Celtics way.

--Derek Fisher is a fantastic finals player. But if he's the Lakers No. 2 offensive option, then the team is in trouble. Lamar Odom got into foul trouble and didn't have the impact that the Lakers needed from him. Pau Gasol did play well, scoring 15 points and grabbing 8 rebounds, but the Lakers needed more out of him down the stretch. Gasol missed some key shots in the fourth quarter, and while some seemingly just went in and out, the Lakers needed those to go in.

--The Celtics bench outplayed the Lakers bench. PJ Brown got some substantial minutes off the bench and had some rebounds that reminded one of the PJ Brown from ten years ago. Sam Cassell was a nuisance for the Lakers offensively, although he did commit his own share of mistakes. James Posey did a very good job away from the ball and covering Bryant at times. Leon Powe was also somewhat effective on the boards. As for the Lakers, Jordan Farmar didn't do much. Luke Walton never seemed comfortable with the ball and I certainly didn't feel confident when he was involved in any play. And while he wasn't a bench player, Vladimir Radmanovic reverted to the absentee player that he's been known to be sometimes. Trevor Ariza didn't play at all, raising doubts about his health, fitness, and conditioning in this series.

--The Celtics out-rebounded the Lakers 46-33. The Lakers need to get tougher on the boards.

--Laker fans shouldn't be too discouraged. They've lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals before, and won the series. Remember they lost to the Sixers in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals. They also lost to the Celtics in Game 1 of the 1985 NBA Finals. And heck, remember that the Miami Heat dropped both games 1 and 2 in Dallas in the 2006 NBA Finals, and went onto win the series. Phil Jackson can make the appropriate adjustments to the triangle for the Lakers to improve offensively in Game 2. Kobe will find ways to get through the Boston defense, and I expect Lamar Odom to be more of a force with the ball. This is going to be a knock-down drag-'em out series. It's going to be fun. Game 2 is Sunday night.

June 1, 2008

Sports Beat, 6-1-08

--The NBA got exactly what it wanted, as the Lakers face off against the Celtics in the NBA Finals. Mark Heisler comments on the rivalry in today's LA Times. Lakers-Celtics is the NBA's flagship rivalry, and it challenges Dodgers-Yankees as the best championship rivalry in any sport. No idea when we'll get the latter again.

The Lakers are favored on Vegas lines to win the series, yet those same lines have the home team favored in every game. The Celtics have home-court advantage, so something's got to give. As I mentioned earlier this week, the Lakers have played the best basketball of any team in the postseason. However, it seems like the Celtics finally got their act together in the Eastern Conference Finals.

I think the Celtics do pose several matchup problems for LA. First off, Lamar Odom will be put up against Kevin Garnett, and Garnett does every Odom does, only better. Conversely, Kobe Bryant figures to be matched up against Ray Allen, and Kobe does everything Allen does, only a lot better. What I'm not sure about is how the Lakers will contain Paul Pierce. They may consider moving Kobe on Pierce during some shifts, and then bringing in Vujacic to handle Allen on defense. Or they can hope to get a good defensive effort out of Vladimir Radmanovic. Luke Walton also figures into the mix. Meanwhile, the Celtics may have their hands full with Pau Gasol, as he'll be the toughest big man that Kendrick Perkins has faced in the playoffs thus far.

This week off figures to benefit the Celtics more than the Lakers. Boston has to be exhausted after playing 20 games, one less than the maximum, and could use the rest. Still, it doesn't hurt for the Lakers to rest up and heal some nagging injuries. It's possible that the extra time could help Trevor Ariza heal and allow him to become a defensive factor in the series.

So who will win? I'm predicting the Lakers in 6. I expect LA to split the first two games in Boston. Then I see the Lakers winning 2 of 3 at home. And that will be followed by a Game 6 victory at the TD Banknorth Garden, or whatever it's being called these days. Ultimately, i think the Lakers big 3 and the triangle will cause problems for Boston, and I see Gasol being the difference-maker. I expect Bryant to put up almost 30 points a game, become an effective facilitator, and be named the MVP.

--In the past we've reported on ways that the Chargers, Jaguars, Bills, Vikings, Saints, and Raiders could move to Los Angeles. Now we can add the Rams to the list of potential Los Angeles suitors. Now that Georgia Frontiere has passed away, new Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom may sell the team, possibly to a group interested in moving the Rams back to Los Angeles. The team's stadium lease expires in 2012, the city has been put on notice to improve facilities, and Ed Roski has a stadium plan here in LA.

Still, Rosenbloom denies that he's looking to sell the Rams, even though he admits that he's heard offers (Ed DeBartolo has made some loud whispers) and the inheritance tax could be an issue for him. I'd call this a longshot at best, and I think the Chargers or Jaguars are more likely LA suitors. Still, there's now a reasonable path that could bring the Rams back to SoCal, and there are so many great memories of the team here with players like Crazy Legs Hirsch, Norm Van Brocklin, Bob Waterfield, Deacon Jones, Merin Olsen, and Jackie Slater.

In the meantime, I'm told that Roski's group will present their football stadium plans to the NFL later this month.

--The Galaxy fell 2-0 to Toronto yesterday, playing without David Beckham and Landon Donovan. There aren't many teams that can win without their two best players, but with national team commitments scheduled for both players throughout the summer, the Galaxy are going to have to learn to win in these situations. It's time for Galaxy President and GM Alexei Lalas to make some moves to improve the depth of his 4-4-2 squad.

--If you want to be a college golfer, then Southern California is a great place to be. Last week, the USC Women of Troy edged out UCLA to win the NCAA Championship in women's golf. The Bruin men exacted their revenge this week though, as UCLA captured the NCAA Championship in men's golf, holding off challenges from Stanford and USC.