Last season, one of the reasons the Rockets were able to take the eventual champion Lakers to a seventh game was the defense Shane Battier played on Kobe Bryant. Kobe got his points, but Battier’s hounding defense forced Kobe to work for each and every one of them, and it was a thrilling battle to watch.
In this year’s playoffs, Bryant and the Lakers have a first-round date with another very good defensive team featuring a defensive specialist on the perimeter. The Thunder were a top-10 team in defensive efficiency this season, in large part because Thabo Sefolosha has emerged as perhaps the league’s best perimeter defender. Thabo’s combination of tenacity, athleticism, and length have earned him the unofficial title of “the next Bruce Bowen,” although though Sefolosha can’t knock down open threes as well as Bowen could.
On the other side, there’s Kobe Bryant. Not only is he one of the best offensive players of all time, but he’s one of the few perimeter players who can destroy a team without needing to blow by his initial defender. With his series of pull-ups and post moves, Kobe is capable of scoring 30 points without taking it hard to the basket once. That means more one-on-one battling then you’ll see in any other superstar vs. stopper matchup this playoffs.
“The last time the Thunder played the Lakers, on March 26, Sefolosha had one. During the 22-plus minutes that Sefolosha guarded Bryant, Kobe made exactly one field goal, and that was an end-of-shot-clock special. For the game, which the Thunder won, Bryant finished with 11 points on 4 of 11 shooting and committed a career-high-tying nine turnovers. Afterward, he even admitted that Sefolosha had bothered him. Copping to weakness? Now this is not the Kobe we’ve come to know and (pick your choice) love/detest/grudgingly respect/name our firstborn after.
No doubt, Bryant will use that game as fuel for the playoffs. As you read this, he’s probably holed up somewhere, masochistically watching film of Sefolosha while chanting whatever mantra Kobe chants when he’s doing some serious self-improvement. And as a result Bryant will likely come out focused and dangerous, which in years past would have led to a ritual thrashing of his opponent.
This year, I’m not so sure.”
On paper, this certainly doesn’t look all that good for Kobe. His team is coming into the playoffs without any momentum to speak of. He hasn’t been fully healthy all year, and had one of the worst statistical seasons of his career. He’s not old yet, but he’s not getting younger either. Now he has to go up against an ultra-tough, ultra-hungry team of young guns who feature the best perimeter defender in the game. However, if there’s one thing NBA fans know, it’s that counting out Kobe is a very, very bad idea. As bad as this matchup looks for Kobe and the Lakers, I’d be shocked if Kobe didn’t end up going off for at least one or two signature performances before the series is over.
Minnesota is going to be entertaining to watch this season. A healthy Ricky Rubio (hopefully) dishing at the point, Karl-Anthony Towns is already a high-IQ passer, and bench players such as Shabazz Muhammad and Adreian Payne have shown some skills.
Then there’s Andrew Wiggins. The reigning Rookie of the Year developed quickly last season — particularly his jump shot — and he should make a big leap this season. He’s going to dunk on people and end up in a lot of highlight packages while putting up a lot of points.
Enough to set the Minnesota Timberwolves single game scoring record, currently held at 52 by Mo Williams? That’s the question for this PBT Extra with Jenna Corrado.
The Bulls have said Derrick Rose is about a week away from returning after suffering a facial fracture this preseason.
The start of the NBA season is two weeks from today (Oct. 27).
So Rose will be ready to go when the Bulls start their season that first night against Cleveland, right? Don’t bet on it, says Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com, quoting coach Fred Hoiberg.
The opening night projection for a Derrick Rose return is a bit murky at this point, as the Bulls are taking a cautious approach to his recovery with Fred Hoiberg essentially ruling him out for the rest of the preseason.
“Most likely (out for the preseason),” Hoiberg said….
In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rose sit out the first handful of games, as the Bulls start the season with a three-game in four-night stretch starting Oct. 27 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is in two weeks.
“That will be in consideration, sure,” Hoiberg said. “We gotta make sure, he really hasn’t done anything and that will be a good two or three weeks where he has total inactivity, so just to throw him back out there going 100 percent with his speed and everything, you just don’t want to take any risks, chances, where it could be a lingering issue.”
Just what TNT and the NBA hoped for with an opening night Bulls vs. Cavaliers showcase: Kirk Hinrich vs. Mo Williams. (Don’t forget Kyrie Irving will miss the start of the season recovering from his knee surgery.)
Of course, this is the smart play for the Bulls who need to be thinking about getting Rose fully healthy and focusing on what condition he will be come April 27, not Oct. 27.
And of course, a lot of Bulls fans who are down on Rose will slam him for this. Even though the injury was a freak accident and the team is right to be patient.
Rose could play opening night, if he gets back to practice next week and can get closer to basketball shape. But I wouldn’t bet on it.