"It's great for the league," Toronto coach Dwane Casey told reporters before last night's Raptors-Lakers game. "It sucks for us tonight."
"Yeah, I think the expectations are too high," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said beforehand. "But he'll probably meet ’em."
Because Mamba Mentality is immune to pressure. And injuries. And age. And all the other excuses other mortals fall back on.
If you see Kobe in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear. If you see Kobe in a fight with the Toronto Raptors, expect a religious awakening, with Kobe rising from the ashes in front of 20,000 Lakers fans who never doubted him.
That's obviously not what happened at Staples Center on Sunday, but first and foremost I'll remember Kobe's comeback game for how high everyone's expectations were. There's no better testament to Kobe than how excited everyone was to watch a guy who by any reasonable measure should not have been playing basketball eight months after rupturing his Achilles. We should've known this would be depressing, but somehow Kobe convinces everyone to abandon logic. This is his greatest superpower.
It wasn't officially basketball season until we got a dunk that broke the Internet. We've had dunks, obviously, and the last few weeks have been fun, but we need the kind of dunk that leads to text messages to friends to make sure everyone has seen it. The kind of dunk that produces two points and a victim, destined to be slandered on social media for the next 48 hours. It happened in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Xavier Henry declared war on Jeff Withey last night.
We didn’t have any Lakers coverage scheduled for today, but circumstances demand that we give you a quick update from Beijing. Three quick updates, to be exact.
1. Chris Kaman injured his hand tobogganing down the Great Wall of China. It produced quite possibly the greatest Lakers news brief in the history of the Los Angeles Times: "Now there's the tobogganing injury sustained by Chris Kaman at the Great Wall of China. One of his fingers was squashed while he was sledding down a slippery concrete track after trekking along the wall for two hours Sunday with Lakers teammates and staffers. His sled, essentially a wheeled cart with a brake, was rammed from behind by teammate Shawne Williams. Kaman instinctively put out his hand as he saw Williams careening toward him and, well, ouch."
On Thursday night at the Nokia Theatre, there was an event called Kobe Up Close. The details: Jimmy Kimmel was going to interview Kobe Bryant for an hour, they were selling tickets for anywhere from $25 to $200, and all proceeds from the event would benefit the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation in partnership with Cedars-Sinai’s Sports Spectacular, supporting their work toward eliminating homelessness and providing preventative health services in underserved areas of Los Angeles. We found out about all this on Monday.
We had no idea what this event was, or what an hour-long interview with Kobe might bring, but when we heard this event was going down 100 feet from the Grantland office, Juliet Litman and I obviously had to get tickets and find out for ourselves. When we sat down in the theater, Juliet described it best: "I feel like we're in a megachurch, and the religion is Kobe Bryant."
It shouldn’t have been surprising that when it came to the end, this Lakers season would refuse to go quietly. There was a chance for dignity — even down 20 points and staring at the most thorough of playoff drubbings. Los Angeles’s starting backcourt yesterday afternoon consisted of Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris. If all the Lakers had done was stuck to their theme for this series — We stuck together, we never gave up — no one could’ve asked for much more. But that would’ve been too simple. These Lakers were a spectacle from the start, and they’d end the same way.
“It’s like a nightmare,” Dwight Howard said afterward. “It’s like a bad dream, and we just couldn’t wake up.” That the lasting image of Howard’s first season in Los Angeles is of him heading toward a darkened tunnel with 10 minutes left in the third quarter of a playoff game is probably fitting. For much of the season, the endless criticism of the Lakers’ newest star was probably overdone. It was obvious early on that the back injury that ended Howard’s season a year ago hadn’t fully healed, and he spent a majority of the season, physically, as a shell of his dominant self. Trouble always manages to find Howard, though, and plenty of that seems to be his own doing. As he left the floor following his second technical, Howard turned as he passed Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and hurled some words back toward the court. It isn’t clear for whom they were directed, and it probably never will be. “I can’t even remember,” Howard said when asked about the interaction.
This concludes our look at the sets and actions integral to each NBA playoff team's success. Read about the Knicks, Celtics, Heat, and Bucks here; read about the Nuggets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Warriors here.
Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams and the UCLA cut
Brook Lopez has emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the block this season, but it’s still Williams who makes this team go. Thanks to improved health, the Nets star guard has been on a tear lately and has transformed the Nets from first-round fodder to an intriguing wild card in the Eastern Conference playoffs. To slow Williams down in the coming weeks, opponents will have to defend an action dating all the way back to the days of John Wooden — the UCLA cut.
The UCLA cut is a simple, straightforward movement that involves the ball handler throwing an entry pass to the wing before making a vertical cut off a big man waiting at the elbow. Though it seems relatively simple, this can be incredibly tough to defend on the NBA level because of the sheer talent of a player like Williams. The Brooklyn guard is adept at taking advantage of any defender who doesn’t display solid technique while navigating the screen.
In case you were busy preparing to confess your sins to Oprah for some reason, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Wisconsin notched their 11th straight win against Indiana, upsetting the no. 2 Hoosiers, 64-59, in Bloomington. After the game, Indiana head coach Tom Crean said, "Oh, those rascals got us again, but wait until next time when we deploy our secret weapon," gesturing at a large wooden crate labeled "Acme Explosive Basketballs." Crean then picked up one of the basketballs and started to cackle, only to have it explode in his hands, leaving his grimacing face covered in soot.
Despite missing Chris Paul for a second straight game, the Los Angeles Clippers continued their torrid play, beating the Houston Rockets on the road, 117-109. Though the Clippers' captain told the media "I'm really happy for those guys, and I'm glad they're able to get some W's without me" after the game, a visibly downtrodden Paul was seen making a Spotify playlist called "Better Off Without Me," featuring both "Stay" by Lisa Loeb and "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia.
Kentucky avoided a second straight SEC defeat, notching a 75-65 home win against Tennessee. Kentucky head coach John Calipari remained upset with his team after the game, telling the media, "With what those guys get paid, avoiding losing streaks is not good enough." When asked to elaborate, Calipari declined, saying, "Nice try, but I'm not going to incriminate myself wait, what did I say just a second ago? Like right before this?" A particularly sweaty Calipari then proceeded to tell the gathered media that the entire press conference was off the record, and if they told anyone about it, he would totally deny everything.
The Lakers won their second straight game, topping Milwaukee, 104-88, at Staples Center with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant scoring 31 points apiece. "Point brothers," Howard said after the game, slapping his teammate Bryant on the back. "Pretty neat, huh Kob-meister?" Bryant did not respond to Howard at the time, but was later seen disdainfully muttering "Kob-meister" as he watched the first half-hour of a bootlegged copy of Zero Dark Thirty on repeat.
The Chicago Bears took their head coaching search north, hiring Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman to replace Lovie Smith. Trestman, considered a quarterbacks guru, prepared Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler, Jason Campbell, Tim Tebow, and current Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for quarterbacking in the NFL. "Wait, are you serious?" said Bears General Manager Phil Emery after being shown the list. "Oh, no. I swear he only mentioned Jay. He didn't say anything about those other guys. I really should've done my due diligence on this one."
The San Diego Chargers introduced former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy as their new head coach. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers responded to the news by saying, "Oh, man, I never thought I'd escape being coached by Norv Turner. It's like I'm Fantine and this McCoy guy is Jean Valjean, you know? Here, I'll show you." Rivers then proceeded to sing a mournful rendition of Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables, before laboriously drawing out the parallels between the lyrics of the song and his plight as a famous athlete playing for an underachieving team. A particularly hoarse Rivers then proceeded to tell the gathered media that the entire song was off the record, and if they told anyone he sang it, he would totally deny hitting that high E.
Australian Sam Stosur crashed out of the Australian Open, losing her second-round match to China's Zheng Jie, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5. "Lemme guess," said golfer Greg Norman when approached by a reporter on his way to his car Wednesday morning, "you want to know what I'd say to Samantha. I'd say, 'Get deeper in the tournament before you choke next time, so maybe The Shark won't be the Australian on call anytime one of his countrymen blows chunks under pressure.'" Sadly for Norman, the reporter had been there to profile his charity work, but after the unpleasant encounter, ran with the unexpected Norman-Stosur feud angle instead.
Former Yankees closer Rafael Soriano signed a two-year, $28 million contract with the Washington Nationals. "To all the Washington fans out there, I'm here to earn my contract, and not be another Jayson Werth," said Soriano upon his introduction. Werth, who was watching the press conference alone from his palatial estate, hung his head upon hearing Soriano's words. "I wasn't that bad last year when I played … eh, who am I kidding? No one wants to be another Jayson Werth. Not even me." A single tear then trickled down Werth's cheek, which a servant wiped off his face before Werth had a chance to launch into his own mournful rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream."
The word “indefinite” has become the go-to recovery-time descriptor for NBA teams understandably wary of providing a specific timeline, and it is a very scary word. But it can mean almost literally anything; fans went bonkers when the Kings slapped DeMarcus Cousins with an “indefinite” suspension last month, speculating it might last weeks, but management ended it after one game. (Keith Smart tacked on another game amid some internal controversy, but that’s a different story.)
In case you were busy coming up with a fun portmanteau to describe your post-holiday diet, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Seattle Seahawks came back from an early 14-0 deficit with 24 unanswered points to eliminate the Washington Redskins, 24-14, at FedEx Field. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was his typical subdued self in the postgame press conference, shouting, "YEEEEEEHAWWWWWW WOOOO WOOO WOOO PETE CARROLL PETE CARROLL PETE CARROLL!" before running around the room until he tired himself out and took a nap under the podium.
In what could have been Ray Lewis's last game, the Baltimore Ravens used a strong second half to beat the Indianapolis Colts, 24-9. The turning point came at halftime when Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh decided to stop "sucking for Luck" when he learned that strategy had been a tactic teams used to jockey for draft position last season, and not a way to exploit Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck's tendency to feel bad and take it easy on inferior opponents.
The Houston Texans topped the Cincinnati Bengals, 19-13, and will advance to face the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional round. Tom Brady appeared to provide some bulletin board material for the Texans, saying he was pleased with the matchup, but went on to explain he was only happy to avoid a matchup with the Bengals, who bring with them the smell of Cincinnati, a mix of bad chili and stagnant river water, that clings to his puffier garments for weeks.
Kyrie Irving’s quest to win the Internet continued on Thursday. A couple months removed from dressing up as an old man and hustling dudes in pickup games, Irving came back to YouTube yesterday — this time challenging Kobe Bryant to a $50,000 game of one-on-one after a Team USA training session. Word out of Vegas is that Irving has torn it up in scrimmages against the Olympic squad. That makes sense. I’m not sure what other sort of feat could inspire this much chutzpah. The back-and-forth was so good that we decided to bring you the five best moments.
With the Lakers, Clippers, and Kings hosting a whopping 28 home games in 28 days from March 11 through April 7 — all happening at Staples Center, which is only a wind-aided Andy Lee punt from Grantland’s headquarters — we couldn’t resist attending these 28 games and writing about as many of them as possible. Click here for our coverage.
I grew up going to Warriors games during stages nine through 26 of their grief. It was an occasionally uplifting but ultimately demoralizing time. My clearest musical memory of those games was that after a fourth-quarter Warriors scoring run, a crudely animated pair of anthropomorphized lips would lip-synch to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” on the arena’s aging scoreboard. The crowd loved it. I loved it, even when I was 15 and all I wanted to listen to was antisocial rap music, Led Zeppelin, and alt-rock songs about how girls are confusing.
Before he became the Lakers’ coach, Mike Brown worked under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs. During his first season in Los Angeles, Brown hasn't used many sets that came from the Spurs — until last night, that is. Tied 93-all against the New Orleans Hornets with 2.1 seconds left, everyone expected Kobe Bryant to get the ball in isolation. You know the drill: He runs to the ball and fires up a tough jumper. But last night, Brown used the threat of Bryant’s standard one-on-one last shot to set up a much easier, wide-open look for Bryant, and the play came almost straight out of the Popovich playbook.
In Monday's podcast, Jalen Rose and David Jacoby discuss Sunday's Lakers-Celtics game, the play Kobe said he called for Andrew Bynum, and whether Jalen expects to see Pau Gasol in the purple and gold during the playoffs.