NBA Playoffs, Lakers v. Suns Game 2: Showcasing the impressive, empowered, and balanced Laker offense


bryant.pngAfter the Lakers’ dominant performance in Game 1, Alvin Gentry wisely noted that “[the Suns] can survive a Kobe game, but [they] can’t survive a Lamar game, and
then Pau playing extremely well, and then Jordan Farmar really coming
in and having a solid game and then Artest playing the way he is.”

He was right, in a sense. Gentry’s statement deserves clarification, though: the Suns can survive a big scoring game from Kobe, but not necessarily a big game from Kobe. Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals could be Bryant’s best performance of the postseason so far, and he only scored 21 points on 8-of-18 shooting. The real gem in Kobe’s stat line was his 13-assist mark, and it was Bryant’s facilitation of a brilliant Laker offense that brought L.A. their eighth consecutive win.

Kobe’s 13 assists not only set a personal best for his playoff career, but according to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, it was the highest assist total by any Laker since Magic Johnson matched the mark in 1997.

Of course, the immediate relevance of Kobe’s terrific performance is far more pressing than its historical context. It’s nice to know how this one game stacks up in comparison to Kobe’s other playoff performances and those of his fellow Lakers, but it’s far more crucial at this stage to understand and embrace just how much he helped his team to take a commanding 2-0 series lead last night.

The Suns are not a strong defensive team, regardless of their current reputation. That said, the most prominent story coming out of Game 2 should not be how Phoenix lost the game, but how Los Angeles won it. Stories of failure make for far more compelling theater, but in this case the Suns’ poor defense was only the catalyst for the loss. The Lakers, fueled by ball movement that was epitomized but not limited to Bryant’s assists, played like the elite offensive outfit that they are.

It’s a bit unfair that Bryant’s performance stole the show, especially considering how ridiculously effective Pau Gasol (29 points, nine rebounds, five assists) was in the fourth quarter. Gasol was a go-to option for the Lakers down the stretch, and though the Suns were within striking distance at points in the fourth, it was Pau’s scoring — not Bryant’s — that pushed Los Angeles over the top.

I think what makes Kobe’s night stand out amongst that of his teammates was how unique his playmaking was. A number of Lakers were productive scorers — Ron Artest finished with 18 points, Lamar Odom with 17, Andrew Bynum with 13, and Jordan Farmar with 11 — and all of them willing passers as well, but none of those contributors are in a position to defer.

Gasol was fantastic. He was put in a situation to succeed due to his skills, match-up, and circumstances, and he came through in flying colors. He’s still the second fiddle on this team though, and his dominance was by design. The Lakers (or more appropriately, Kobe) worked through Gasol with the game on the line, and he produced.

I know this all may seem like undue lavishing of an oft-praised star, but Kobe will always lie at the crux of what the Lakers hope to accomplish. In Game 2, he faced pressure but did anything but struggle. There will obviously be times between now and the end of the Lakers’ season where L.A. will need more than 21 points from Bryant to win, but his scoring in those situations is no more important than his willing deference in others.

That’s when Gasol will truly shine. It’s when Odom will go from from invisible to ever-present, and when Artest will command defensive attention. As the Celtics continue their quest to upset the Magic in the East, keep these Lakers at the back of your mind. They’re out for blood, championship-ready, and clicking both mentally and physically.

DeMarcus Cousins out for Kings vs. Warriors Saturday

DeMarcus Cousins, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams
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As if Golden State was not already a prohibitive favorite Saturday night.

DeMarcus Cousins, who has missed the last two games for Sacramento with a strained back and that will continue Saturday. Our old friend Bill Herenda tweeted it first.

Not only are the Kings 1-6 without Cousins, but they were also on their way to beating Charlotte Monday until Cousins had to leave the game.

Golden State will likely be without Harrison Barnes in this game after spraining his ankle in the last game. Expect Andre Iguodala to get the start, or if interim coach Luke Walton doesn’t want to mess with the bench rotation he could go with Brandon Rush.

Good news: Anthony Davis listed as probably vs. Utah Saturday

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Watching Anthony Davis fall to the court clutching his knee, not being able to put any pressure on his leg as he was helped to the locker room, it was frightening Friday night in Los Angeles.

It turns out it’s not that bad. After the game the injury was described as a “knee contusion” and not the serious damage that was feared. Saturday the Pelicans said Davis was good to go.

Whew. Nobody wants to see Davis miss time.

The Pelicans had won three in a row until they ran into the Clippers Friday night. Davis has played better of late — the New Orleans defense is 7.2 points per 100 better when he is on the court — and New Orleans has gotten better point guard play out of Ish Smith.

Stephen Curry abuses Sun’s Price with behind-the-back, pull-up three (VIDEO)

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That is just cruel.

An on-fire Warriors team dropped 44 on the Suns in the first quarter Saturday, and Curry had 19 of those points going 5-of-6 from three. The Suns’ had no defender who could begin to hang with him. Certainly not Ronnie Price, who came in off the bench and got abused for his efforts.

Curry finished with 41 points, never had to set foot on the court in the fourth quarter, and the Warriors improved to 17-0 on the season. Just another day at the office for them.

Philadelphia has dropped record 27 in a row dating back to last season

Brett Brown

We tend to think of record streaks having to be in one season, not broken up across two.

But if you can suspend that, the Philadelphia 76ers are now the owners of the longest losing streak in NBA — and major professional sports — history.

With their tough two-points loss to Houston Friday night, the Sixers have lost 27 in a row. The Sixers dropped their final 10 last season and with the loss to the Rockets are 0-17 to start this one.

That bests the 26-game losing streaks of the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers and these same Sixers from 2013-14. Looking across sports, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 1976-1977 also lost 26 in a row, which when you consider the length of the NFL season is pretty embarrassing.

The Sixers struggles are born from a plan by GM Sam Hinkie (and approved by ownership) to get better long-term by being bad now and hoarding draft picks. It’s a strategy that can work if Hinkie nails the draft picks (the book is out on how Hinkie is doing on that front). And they are committed to it through at least this draft.

But don’t think for a second the players and coach are trying to lose.

If you have watched the Sixers play their last few games you know the players are trying hard to get that victory (and almost have a couple of times). The effort is there, they are just outmatched and lack the kind of presence at the end of games to execute under pressure (something a couple of quality, regularly-playing veterans might help, but that’s another discussion). They have the point differential of a team that should have a couple wins; they just haven’t been fortunate. It happens. Go ahead and blame management if you think this plan is an abomination. Just don’t question the desire or effort of the players or coaches, that is not in doubt.

The Sixers play at the Grizzlies Sunday, then have maybe their best shot at a win for a while when they host the Lakers on Tuesday.