Lakers Ring in the New Season
Championship banner #15 was raised to its perch high above Staples Center tonight, nestled right next to the other ten, gold banners won in Los Angeles. And as the team celebrated last season’s dramatic championship run, the other tenants of Staples Center waited patiently in the dark recesses within the bowels of the arena. To make matters worse, their #1 draft pick, Blake Griffin, was diagnosed with a broken kneecap and is out a minimum of 6 weeks. Never even the bridesmaid, the Los Angeles Clippers watched as the more celebrated tenant received their diamond encrusted rings from NBA Commissioner David Stern. And so too did the rest of the NBA, the Clevelands, the Orlandos, the Bostons, all other 29 teams that fell short of the ultimate goal. Relegated to watching the ceremony on TNT along with the rest of the nation, I yearned for Chickie-baby broadcasting the event live via Prime Ticket, with his trusty sidekick Stu Lantz offering his brief dialogue whenever Chick exhaled or waited for the applause to die down. Instead, we were treated to the Three Amigos consisting of Reggie Miller (Cheryl’s brother), Marvelous Marv Albert and Mike Fratello, the Czar of the Telestrator. Thankfully, they stayed rather quiet as Announcer Lawrence Tanter introduced nine former Lakers of the past, each representing one of the championships banners won in Los Angeles; 1971-72–Jerry West, 1979-80–Norm Nixon, 1981-82–Jamaal Wilkes, 1984-85–James Worthy, 1986-87–Michael Cooper, 1987-88–Magic Johnson, 1999-2000–AC Green, 2000-01–Rick Fox and 2001-02–Robert Horry.
As the crowd grew into a frenzy with each introduction, the trainers and coaching staff were finally introduced and given their rings. The coaches consisted of Craig Hodges, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Brian Shaw, Jim Cleamons, Frank Hamblen and Phil Jackson. All shook hands and accepted their rings from Commissioner Stern with Phil giving Jeanie Buss an extra special kiss. Finally it was the players turn to bask in their glory and first up was Adam Morrison, followed by DJ Mbenga, Josh Powell, Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and last but definitely not least, a jubilant Kobe Bryant. D-Fish gave a brief message of thanks to the undulating fans and counted down the unveiling of the banner to the glee of everyone in the city. Hugs and high-fives were exchanged amongst Lakers past and present as “I Love LA” blared throughout the arena. As TNT broke for a commercial the lights at Staples came back on and the new season was officially underway.
Andrew Bynum (26 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 blocked shot), scored the first basket of the new season with a short jump hook in the lane that danced tantalizing on the rim before falling through. Kobe Bryant (33 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals), came out ablaze as did Lamar Odom (16 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots), who started in place of the injured Pau Gasol. Both veterans looked to be in mid-season form and toyed with their Clipper defenders. The Lakers length clearly was an issue for the Blake-less Clippers as they continually lobbed the ball deep into the post for easy isolation plays or kick-outs to wide open teammates. New Laker Ron Artest (10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal), sported a fresh haircut, with a big “L” engraved on the back of his head, made his presence known with tough defense throughout the contest. His post strength was evident as he wheeled with ease, but he appeared to defer the offense to his new teammates. But the constant with Artest was his non-stop defense. Not only did he defend well on ball, but his help defense also led the way in forcing the Clippers into nine first quarter turnovers. The first period ended with the Lakers comfortably ahead, 32-22.
The second period got underway with the Bench Mob taking the floor. Odom, DJ MBenga, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar and Artest continued the good ball movement and extended the lead to 39-26. Artest found open cutters and established deep position in the post where he punished the weaker defenders. But second year guard, Eric Gordon (21 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals), showed why he has Clipper coach Mike Dunleavy excited about the new season. He attacked the basket and was rewarded with trips to the free throw line each time. His penetration allowed the Clippers to stay close as they slowly closed the gap to 40-33. The Lakers went cold just as the Clippers started to warm up. Mbenga suddenly became the offensive focal point and as expected, threw up three consecutive bricks. Even with Shannon Brown and Luke Walton entering the game, the Lakers woes continued. The Bench Mob clearly was experiencing the post ring ceremony jitters as nervous and frenetic energy resulted in careless passes and poor shot selection. The Clippers chipped away at the lead and pulled to within, 44-41 after a pair of buckets by Craig Smith (12 points, 5 rebounds), with 3:11 left to play.
Phil Jackson inserted Kobe, Bynum and Derek Fisher (5 points, 3 assists, 1 steal), back into the line-up to help stem the tide and dividends were quickly paid as the Clippers went back into turnover mode. Bynum scored deep in the lane and Kobe converted a pair of free throws after he was fouled attacking the basket. Bynum blew an assist from Kobe but recovered after he missed the open lob pass and easily dropped the ball through the hoop. D-Fish followed up with a trey and the Lakers pushed the lead back up to 51-43. Bynum was the recipient of some spectacular interior passing from both Kobe and Odom and converted four consecutive free throws. Kobe finished the half with a twisting drive to the bucket, then stole the ball at the other end and pushed the ball ahead to Odom who then found a wide-open Bynum filling the lane for an easy lay-in for a 59-49 halftime advantage. For his efforts, Bynum finished the half with 17 points (6-10 shooting) along with 17 from Kobe as well.
The Lakers opened up the second half with an acrobatic reverse by Kobe, who was being guarded by the smaller Baron Davis (2 points on 1-10 shooting, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals). In fact, the Clippers made a conscious defensive switch by putting Davis on Kobe. Noting the mismatch, the Lakers tried to exploit Davis by allowing Kobe to attack at will. Bynum continued his strong play as Odom found the big man cutting deep into the post. Gordon remained the Clippers lone bright spot as he drained a pair of jumpers to keep them close at 70-63 with 6:13 left in the period. Play suddenly got ragged as both teams struggled from the field. The effort was there, but the shots began to clang off. The Lakers pounded the ball into the post on almost every possession and when Bynum got his hands on the ball, he flourished. But a Gordon fast break drive over Odom trimmed the lead back down to 72-67 with 2:58 left. Artest seemed unsure of the offense and passed up on open opportunities. Kobe nailed a difficult turnaround jumper over Davis for a 74-67 advantage but the Clippers closed the quarter strong, first with a feed from Davis to a surprised Marcus Camby, followed by an uncontested trey by Gordon, then a lob pass that resulted in a Camby dunk that cut the lead to 76-75 after the end of three.
Kobe drained a fade away jumper to open then final stanza but Gordon countered with a pair of free throws. A put back off an offensive rebound by Odom plus one pushed the lead back up to five. Then a Mbenga offensive rebound and put-back made it 84-77 with 8:36 left to play. A tip-in by Odom followed by a trey as time ran down on the 24-second clock made it 89-79 as the Clippers called time-out to regroup. Chants of “MVP” erupted after another acrobatic Kobe drive to the hoop resulted in a 3-point play. A Kobe steal and dish to a streaking Artest and suddenly the lead was 94-79 and the Clippers were all but done. The Lakers then played “keep-away” as the Clippers tried to chip away at the lead. But there weren’t enough ticks left on the clock and the Lakers brushed off their Staples Center roomies with a final tally of 99-92.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
Here are some simple tips to follow to enjoy the Los Angeles Lakers 2009-10 season… Don’t despair when we play down to the competition against teams like the Grizzlies or the Bobcats. Don’t call in to the post game talk-show and complain about how Phil is screwing up the rotation. Don’t roll your eyes when Andrew takes a tumble and gets up slowly. Don’t fret when Ron-Ron launches a long one as an open Pau waves for the ball under the basket. Don’t frown when Fish is taken off the dribble and loses his man. Don’t call for a mid-season trade when both Jordan and Shannon fail to slow down CP3 or D-Will. Don’t get irate when Luke fails to hit an open jumper during the first half of the season. Don’t blame Khloe when Lamar plays like well, Lamar. Don’t call the firing squad when the Machine starts clanking again. Don’t lose faith when it seems we can’t put away the lesser teams. Don’t ever boo the singer of the National Anthem, even when you’re watching an away game on TV. Don’t ask that Phil insert Adam Morrison so that he can get some playing time. Don’t second guess Kurt Rambis’ decision to leave, and the Lakers’ decision to allow him to leave. Don’t ask Pau Gasol to quit playing for his national team. Don’t find blame with Josh Powell or DJ Mbenga. Don’t expect the repeat to be easy. Don’t cheer for Shaq when he comes to town with Lebron. Don’t boo Trevor Ariza unless he’s shooting free throws. Don’t even think about wearing green when the Celtics are on the West Coast. And don’t ever forget how you felt when that gold championship banner was unveiled tonight.