Kobe the distributor?

Two games in a row Kobe Bryant has 14 assists. It’s the common thread for the Lakers on their newly minted 2-game winning streak.

The Lakers finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday with a 105-96 win. Sure, Kobe was taking the big shots down the stretch as any scorer should, but he made another concerted effort to include his teammates in the win. He finished with 21 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds, just shy of a triple double.

I’ve long wondered whether the Lakers’ problems were something you could pin on the Black Mamba as well. He took too many shots for my liking and forced too many plays. But people continually complained about Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, as if they encompass the play of the entire team.

In the last two games, this Black Mamba has been getting Steve Nash going, he’s dropping the ball off for his starved big men Dwight and Pau. He’s dishing back to Chris Duhon and finding the cutting Earl Clark. He’s involving everyone.

The Lakers look good with Kobe dishing the ball. And he’s still Kobe, he’s still a threat.

I don’t want to predict what the Lakers will do going forward, but I think they should really look at what he’s done in these two past game and give him a big hint. Lord knows the Lakers organization can’t tell him what to do.

David Stern’s confusing obstruction of the Chris Paul trade

David Stern
David Stern is, simply, a bully.
Suffice it to say, NBA commissioner David Stern has an overbearing personality that played a huge role in the general distaste of the lockout. That distaste is now boiling over in the continued confusion over the blocked trades of Chris Paul by the league owned New Orleans Hornets.

The Los Angeles Clippers followed up after getting their first proposal nixed by Stern and company by getting out of the fray, realizing that they were compromising their future success by including players like Eric Gordon in the trade possibilities. In turn, the NBA is now actively trying to revive a deal with them, hoping not to lose out on yet another one of the few landing spots for Paul as of this writing.

Billionaires vs. millionaires doesn’t even come close to describing the power play that was occurring behind the scenes in the NBA this fall. Stern was so pompous, so boneheadedly determined to recoup owners lost cash, and so head-scratchingly back pedaling in the end, that when Deron Williams called him a bully the other day, the collective basketball world didn’t even flinch. Many nods were recorded.

Why is Stern a bully? Because of the NBA dress code. Because basketball related income for players is now 51.5 percent — after being 57 percent under the previous labor deal. Because Stern often derides players, as if they’re children, to better educate themselves on matters of importance. Because the lawyer in him is so unrelenting that he almost lost an NBA season, much to the satisfaction of his bosses and the dissatisfaction of NBA fans.

So after handing down take it or leave it deals to NBA players in the last month, including a 50-50 and 51-49 take on basketball related income in favor of the owners, Stern turned on the charm for two days and the deal got done.

Silly Stern, didn’t he know that he could’ve had that deal a month ago? Why of course not. To reach a deal over the NBA lockout, Stern had to push the players to the brink … stripping them of every dime, nickel and penny that he could recover for his 29 bosses. Only when he realized the players had a backbone, de-certifying their union in preparation for a suit against the league, did he change strategy and relax his death grip on the season.

Flash forward to the NBA’s fastened free agency period. Rumors of a Paul trade had been surfacing for months because of Paul’s unwillingness to re-sign with the Hornets. It’s a deadbeat franchise. With no NBA owner there, and no incentive to invest without one, the franchise is in a coma.

In making a deal for Paul, Hornets general manager — or should I say, general chump? Because that’s definitely how he’s being treated — Dell Demps knows he has to prepare for a future without his franchise player. Much like Dwight Howard and the Magic, or Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets last year, the idea behind a trade of your best player is to get compensation for him while he’s still under contract, rather than get screwed and get nothing when he walks at the end of said contract.

Somehow, the entire sports world understands this simplicity.

Here are some facts: Two deals were put on the table — both of which were very fair — and both were shot down by Stern. Not by Demps, who put them together, but by the big bad NBA commissioner. Stern even went so far as to say he made these decisions, particularly in blocking Paul’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, “free from the influence of other NBA owners.” So he’s in the spigot himself here.

He called the trade to the Lakers a bad one for basketball related reasons. After the Lakers dropped out of the running for Paul, he then went on and directed his executives to shake down the Clippers for everything they have. When they pulled out — for obvious reasons — he then directed his executives, taking Demps out of the equation, to revive the deal.

None of this makes any sense.

In the weird, twisted world of the NBA, negotiations can appear disheveled and even aimless in approach. But make no mistake about it, with Stern on board as a direct stakeholder in the Hornets’ future, the confusion and comatose nature of the franchise will only heighten with the NBA as its owner.

And then Stern will relent, unapologetically, and accept a deal for lesser value. It could have been done a week ago, but that’s just too easy.

5 takeaway thoughts on Lakers-Celtics

Andrew Bynum and Kendrick Perkins battle in the paint. Very fitting of these two teams. (AP photo)

Last night’s Lakers-Celtics game, a 92-86 win for the Lakers, was much more than a dog-and-pony show for Ray Allen‘s super-human 3-point shooting capabilities.

(Allen connected on 3-of-8 threes to surpass Reggie Miller for the all-time lead in 3-pointers made with 2,562.)

Allen, without question, was brilliant and gracious. I’ve followed him since his time with the Milwaukee Bucks and I can honestly say there isn’t a more deserving guy to hold this record than him.

But for the game, and the rivalry, there’s a lot to draw upon from last night’s contest. It was, in the best way I know how to describe it, an “I told you so” game. Let me explain.

1.) Only 9 healthy — Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, Semih Erden, Marquis Daniels and, for shits and giggles, Delonte West didn’t play last night for Eastern Conference’s best team. Is it any wonder why they lost? Erden, the 7-foot Turk who has been playing aggressive and strong in his reserve role, was out with an adductor strain leaving the Celtics thin in their greatest asset — the frontcourt — after notable injuries to Shaq and Jermaine. The whole reason the Celtics picked up Erden and the O’Neals was to compete with the Lakers in the paint. Last night’s loss becomes painfully obvious when the bigs to back up Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins are no longer available and, like last night, get in foul trouble.
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Carmelo Anthony to Lakers wouldn’t be the change L.A. hopes it’ll be

Moving Carmelo Anthony to the Los Angeles Lakers just doesn't make sense. (AP photo)

There are a couple of things wrong with trading Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony to the Los Angeles Lakers. The first of which is that he’s a ball heavy player — he’s not successful without taking 15 to 20 shots a game. Right now, he’s averaging 19.04 field goal attempts per game. The Lakers, for the last 6 1/2 years, have been Kobe Bryant’s team. He eats up 19.2 shots per game. Enough said.
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One final(s) thought

No Kobe, the rest of the world does not speak English.

At the end of the day, the Los Angeles Lakers won an NBA title despite Kobe Bryant. To shoot 6-of-24 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals is not legendary.

Add to the fact that Black Mamba had horrible shooting games in 4 and 5, and I’m hard pressed to think he deserves to be the NBA Finals MVP. I’ll add my name to the chorus of critics who believe that Pau Gasol should’ve been honored with Bill Russell’s award. Is it so much to ask that the guy with MVP credentials — and not the MVP reputation — stand at the front of the podium for these things?

Case in point: If the Celtics had won, Paul Pierce would’ve more than likely won the Finals MVP. Why? Because he carries the reputation around the league as the Truth, and although his scoring was good in spurts (a la Kobe), he was not the determining factor in any of the games that the Celtics won. On name recognition alone, he was more valuable to viewers and fans of the game. But not for the Celtics.

Sound familiar?

I think so. So let’s give love to the Spaniard, who is deserving of an award he can now only look at whenever he goes over Kobe’s house.

When all else fails, break glass

Paging Mr. Truth, paging Mr. Truth....

Waiting for Paul Pierce to show up. He says he will, what do you think?

Me, not so much. Ron Artest is making a difference, whether Pierce wants to admit it or not. And if there is one person that can change the whole dynamic of the game — while instantly having a great game after a bad one — it’s not Pierce, it’s Kevin Garnett. He likes comebacks. In this situation, the Celtics need to break the glass and run the offense through the Big Ticket for once. Letting Pierce dribble it around and figure it out, or waiting for Rajon Rondo to wake up and push the rock, seems like a task in futility. Instead, just put KG in the post and dish to Ray Allen and Pierce when things get crazy. There’s no reason for him to cry about being tired. He’s only got 48 more minutes to play.

All out. Go hard or go home. Remember, anything is possible.

Doc Rivers is outcoaching Phil Jackson

Ten rings don't mean jack. What have you done lately, Phil?

I’m sure of it.

With every substitution, every inbounds play, and every defensive lapse, Phil Jackson is looking all the more junior to Glen “Doc” Rivers. By leaps and bounds.

Forget for a moment that the Celtics have a mental edge over the team that they beat in the 2008 NBA Finals (the Los Angeles Lakers have what I like to call a “losers complex”). Boston has a more polished offensive machine than Jackson’s Kobe Bryant led Triangle due in part to its dependence on Black Mamba. The offense, in my opinion, is poorer because of it.
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Game 5 is like Game 7 … it’s oddly simple

You want to know how?... Or is that why?... Either way, I'll tell you.

Go hard or go home. I like that saying. When E-40 made that a hook (and song) on his 2009 hit “My Ghetto Report Card,” I adopted it as another euphemism for the hard work I like to tout myself as doing. (Listen to the song here.)

Right about now, the shrewd, if not profound, message of those simple words need to resonate through the Boston Celtics locker room. If they lose Game 5 to the Los Angeles Lakers, they lose the series. And vice versa.
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Reax: Lakers failed to adjust to zone

I couldn’t be more disappointed with the performance of the Lakers on the road. They were supposed to win at least one game in Phoenix. It was pre-determined. Didn’t they get the memo?

All the while, the flow of the game was making it real easy to see that there was a number of problems that L.A. couldn’t overcome — that Kobe Bryant’s 38 points couldn’t overcome. The Suns’ zone defense (which received way more hype than it ever deserved) shackled big plays in the post that Pau Gasol had seen in the first two games. He still managed a tough 15 points. Amare Stoudemire continued his ass-kicking reign of fire in Game 4, dropping 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds in only 31 minutes on the court. And then, the Suns bench went all Game 3 San Antonio on the Lake Show, with Channing Frye remembering how to put the ball in the cup, Goran Dragic putting moves on Derek Fisher, and Jared Dudley firing from long distance. And with Leonardo Barbosa chipping in 14 points, the Suns’ starters didn’t see much playing time in the fourth, keeping a steady lead of six to eight points until the waning moments when the all-stars were needed again.

The Suns bench outscored the Lakers bench, 54-20. Most notably, Shannon Brown had 2 points and Jordan Farmar had 3. Lamar Odom finished with 15 in 35 minutes.

But what’s worse than the Lakers bench getting outplayed by the Suns’, is that the Lakers seem to be confused about how to attack the Suns’ zone. For one of the few games in Fisher’s life in a Laker uniform, he was constantly pushing the point and running the set offense. It was weird to see that because he’s not the type to cut and break down a defense in those situations. You have to be able to split defenders and he hasn’t been able to do that well for some time. In fact, that’s what Kobe’s best at (hence, 38 points). It seemed more like a job for the young guys, Farmar and Brown, to do while allowing Kobe to run things. Instead, we saw plenty of time from Fish and Ron Artest on the wings with Kobe, watching Black Mamba go to work. This is not to say it’s the two are terrible at these things, it’s just not their strongest trait. And in the end, when going up against a zone, you’ve got to be ready to fire up an open three at a moment’s notice. Fish doesn’t have that problem, but right now Artest does.

So yeah, I’m a little surprised by the outcome of the game. I would’ve thought that Phil Jackson would’ve made the necessary adjustments — whether by personnel or strategy — to get the job done. Game 3 was a given for the Suns, which were playing off two shots of emotion and adrenaline. Game 4 was supposed to return to the chess match. So far, Alvin Gentry has outcoached the Zen Master. Who would’ve thunk it?

Dream finals matchup close to being realized

You know you wanted a Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals. I know I wanted one, too. Deep down inside, I wanted this series to happen for more than a few reasons. But the biggest of which is that the fruition of these two teams meeting will kill all of the “what if” talk we’ve heard over the past two seasons.

You know what I’m talking about. Like, what if Andrew Bynum was playing in 2008? What if Kevin Garnett was playing in 2009? Etc., etc.

I’m done with that nonsense. We know that with the Lakers seeing blood (up 2-0 over the Suns) and the Celtics massacring the pride of all that is Orlando, we’re going to be watching the matchup we should’ve seen in 2008 — at the level it should’ve been at from the beginning.

The key difference for 2010 is Ron Artest being in the picture. He is the equalizer in a very real sense, because he can handle Paul Pierce one-on-one. That alone can mean the difference between the champions of 2008 and 2009.

I’m looking heavily at the development of Bynum, a budding all-star, as well. His contribution this year bears notice. He’s better than he was two years ago when the Lakers made it to the finals (without him for a month) and he’s continuing to play hurt, which is new territory for him. He’s currently handling the latter quite admirably. Almost, Kobe like. Besides cleaning up on the glass, as he should, he has shown he has better hands than what he is given credit for. Between Bynum, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have four threats offensively and no defensive liabilities. Add to the mix the veteran Derek Fisher (who has always been one of my favorite players), and the Laker lineup resembles that of the Steinbrenner 9 — just in shorts.

Black Mamba will have his work cut out for him if he is to beat the Celtics in the Finals.

But don’t let this post seem as if to be a serenade to the glories of the Lakers. There will be no (more) downplaying of the Celtics’ craftiness and experience. They’ve represented Boston well in the last month. This 2010 playoff Celtics team is nothing like your 2010 season Celtics. The resurgence of the team has been well documented, from Pierce finding his offensive game, to Garnett finding his moves, Rasheed Wallace shutting up and doing his job, Tony Allen becoming a playmaker, and Rajon Rondo taking the helm of this team as its offensive spark plug.

As Rondo goes, so does the Celtics. And with his ability to dice through defenses — at a speed unmatched as far as I’ve seen — the Lakers will have their hands full. Not only are the Celtics hot right now, but they have all the pieces needed to beat a team of the Lakers’ caliber. (And yes, the Lakers are the team to beat here as they are the defending champions.) Matchup-wise, Boston doesn’t give much ground defensively and where the team lacks for in offensive juice, it makes up for it in the scoring punch of Pierce and Rondo.

I know I’m being presumptuous with two more games to win for each team before even advancing to the finals (and here in Boston, we just witnessed an epic meltdown with the Bruins), but I’d bet my lunch money that this is going to happen. The Suns don’t have the talent or grit to out muscle the Lakers. The Magic are nonplussed, in steady shock over dropping the first two games of their series at home. They’ll walk into TD Garden and get hammered some more before being swept. These signs are clear. It’s the Finals that aren’t so easy to tell.

Is this Celtics team for real? Is Black Mamba healthy enough to lead the Lakers? Can Ron Artest keep his composure against a gritty Celtics team? Will ‘Sheed continue to keep his mouth closed?

I can’t wait to find out. While there’s lots of good basketball left in the conference finals, the NBA finals is setting up to be something great.