VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 21
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Remembering Kobe’s 81-point night — It may seem hard to believe, but it has been 10 years since Kobe Bryant dropped 81 points on the Toronto Raptors. ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi has a great oral history on the game, we have an entire section of this website dedicated to Kobe’s career and the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan, who covered the game that night, provides some great stories from the event, too:
Lawrence Tanter had already witnessed plenty from his courtside view as the Lakers’ public-address announcer.
He was there when the Lakers beat the hated Boston Celtics at the Forum for the 1987 championship. He saw Bryant throw a lob to Shaquille O’Neal in a back-from-the-dead rally in the 2000 playoffs. And he watched the Lakers somehow outlast Boston in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.
For Bryant’s 81-point outburst, though, Tanter remembered the pen-on-paper challenge for official scorer and longtime friend John Radcliffe.
“He was having a very difficult time finding room in the boxes on the scorebook to put all these points down that Kobe was scoring,” Tanter said. “It was a tedious effort on his behalf to do that because he’d never faced anything like that either. He just kept going, ‘Man, I’ve got to write smaller.'”
Suddenly, Luke Walton wasn’t the cool, collected guy with the quick wit and stentorian voice.
Long before he became the successful interim head coach of the Golden State Warriors, he was a reserve Lakers forward. A pass-first player his entire career, he asked for an assist from Bryant after the Toronto game.
“It was one of the few times I felt like a fan instead of his teammate. I had him sign a ticket for me after the game,” Walton said. “It was incredible. You look up at the scoreboard and see it at, like, 72 and then 78 and then all of a sudden it says 80, and it looks like the scoreboard is broken. I really didn’t even fully grasp it until I went home and watched it on tape that night.”
Bill Macdonald was the ebullient host of Lakers’ pregame shows for Fox Sports West.
He was asked to step up a bit that night and took the place of Lakers play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers, who was contractually allowed by the team to call three NFLplayoff games, including the NFC championship on radio that day in Seattle.
Macdonald had experience broadcasting other sports, but nothing like the Lakers. Certainly nothing like that night.
“I figured this was going to be the only Laker game I ever broadcast. It didn’t matter to me that it was a nondescript Sunday in January, a bad Laker team against a not-very-good Toronto team,” Macdonald said. “The first half was just awful. The Lakers were horrible. They needed every single one of Kobe’s points in the second half to come back.”
Phil Jackson, a share-the-ball proponent who won 11 championships in 20 seasons as an NBA coach, including five with the Lakers, was complimentary of Bryant’s effort at the time but noted, “it’s not exactly the way you want to have a team win a game.”
He chuckled this week when that quote was read back to him. He did it again when told Bryant’s score by quarter — 14, 12, 27 and 28. And again when reminded of Bryant’s shot total — almost one per minute.
“That’s exhausting,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty amazing. The kid is unbelievable.”
Toronto swingman Jalen Rose was the one who guarded Bryant the most. Maybe it’s a form of psychological self-defense, but rather than dwell on Bryant’s point total, he remembers Bryant’s demeanor.
“Kobe never bumped his chest. He never pointed in the crowd. He never trash-talked,” said Rose, now an ESPN analyst. “If Kobe had behaved like that, he wouldn’t have got to 51, let alone 81, because we would have wanted to physically harm him on the court.”
“The greatest thing about Kobe’s 81-point game was that actually wasn’t his best game to me. His best game was actually against a good team, the Dallas Mavs, when I think he had like 60 in three quarters.”
VIDEO: Relive Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game
No. 2: Van Gundy questions Pistons’ commitment — All season long, the Detroit Pistons have been in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. At times, they have moved into the upper crust of the standings and, at times, they’ve nearly fallen out of the playoff chase altogether. After last night’s loss to the woeful New Orleans Pelicans, Detroit is No. 6 in the Eastern Conference. To coach Stan Van Gundy, though, there’s an easy explanation for why Detroit is so inconsistent. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press has more:
The visitor’s locker room at Smoothie King Center was a solemn place late Thursday night after the Detroit Pistons watched the New Orleans Pelicans score 72 points in the first half on the way to a 115-99 loss.
And a common theme emerged from the comments.
Coach Stan Van Gundy: “We look like a team that is firmly committed to trying to be mediocre.”
Forward Marcus Morris: “We are coming out with no energy. Everybody has to hold each other accountable. We come out and aren’t playing hard on both sides of the ball. After a while, it gets real old.”
And then it was Brandon Jennings’ turn.
“You gotta challenge your teammates,” Jennings said. “This is a big boys league so you can’t get in your feelings.
“Guy says something, say something back, squash it up and let’s go. I just think that’s healthy. Great teams in the league have confrontation. They have guys talking.”
It’s quite apparent there is a leadership void in the Pistons locker room and Jennings said even more – calling for more leadership from himself and Reggie Jackson.
The Pelicans easily topped the Pistons’ previous high of defensive futility for a half. They allowed 67 points in the second half of Wednesday night’s 123-114 victory at the Houston Rockets.
“It was deplorable,” Van Gundy said.
But Van Gundy’s exhortations is the only voice – and Jennings says other voices need to speak up.
“We’ll say things here and there, but mostly it’s just coach talking and it has to come from the players and we have to police ourselves,” Jennings said.
“Guys get into it, guys tell how they feel. We don’t have any of that. Maybe it needs to be done. Just let it out and let’s go on from there.”
No. 3: Aldridge: Choosing Spurs over Suns was ‘very close‘ — Every summer has its marquee free agent(s) and last summer was no different with then-Portland Trail Blazers star LaMarcus Aldridge on the market. Although he ultimately chose to sign with the San Antonio Spurs, Aldridge heard pitches from a few other teams including the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns. In a chat with Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic, Aldridge says going back home to Texas wasn’t as easy of a choice as some may have thought:
LaMarcus Aldridge, now entrenched in the silver and black, was torn in early July and even learning toward the Phoenix Suns for moments of a four-day recruiting race. He played his first game in Phoenix on Thursday night in an arena that sits a block from where a multi-story banner of Aldridge was to be unveiled on July 4, the day he pledged to sign with San Antonio.
The banner went to city recycling and the Suns season wound up being trashed with Aldridge and the Spurs routing them for the Suns’ 15th loss in 16 games. While the Suns hve the NBA’s fourth-worst record (13-31), San Antonio (37-6) is on a 12-game winning streak and is one win from the best start ever for the Big Three – Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
“It was very close,” said Aldridge, who was initially reluctant to discuss the Suns’ chances with him. “It came down to the final minute, to the final day of me trying to make a decision of coming here or going to San Antonio.”
When the Suns’ staff walked into their first meeting with Aldridge on July 1 in Los Angeles, they brought along Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight with the pair freshly locked into $122 million of contracts. Aldridge was swayed by Phoenix during a two-hour meeting, which also included Eric Bledsoe, Managing Partner Robert Sarver, General Manager Ryan McDonough, Senior Advisor Lon Babby, Head Coach Jeff Hornacek and assistant coach Earl Watson.
“They made a strong case,” Aldridge said. “They knew who I wanted to play with and some things I valued and they made those things happen. I couldn’t not take them seriously because they did everything that I was asking at the time.
“It came down, neck and neck, between Phoenix and San Antonio. It wasn’t overplayed. That was accurate.”
“Them showing up with him (Chandler) in the room, that spoke volumes about how serious they were,” Aldridge said.
Once the Suns knew how serious Aldridge was about them, they went a step further to clear necessary salary cap space so that he would not have to rely on faith that a maximum-level contract would be available. The Suns traded Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger to Detroit for a second-round pick in a deal that upset Markieff Morris likely on two fronts – that his brother was traded just as the two began new contracts with Phoenix and that it was done with the aim of replacing him at starting power forward.
The Suns pitched Aldridge on being the franchise player with his resume as an All-Star for the past four seasons.
“I definitely could’ve been that guy here,” said Aldridge, a Texas native with children there. “Going home and being close to family and being on such a talented team, that was hard to turn down.”
It turned out that family and a championship chance were more important factors than being a franchise player. With the Spurs, Aldridge has had to adjust his role into the Spurs system and culture with pre-existing stars and a rising MVP candidate, Kawhi Leonard.
“Things change,” Aldridge said. “I’ve always enjoyed being the guy. I think working so hard in Portland to earn the right to have it be my team and to have my own team over the years and try to play at a high level, that was hard-earned. So I take pride in that. I cherish those years. I don’t want to be that guy. This team is so stacked that they really don’t need me to be that guy here.
“This is more Kawhi’s team and we all kind of fit in around him and try to make him better and try to make his life a little bit easier. I think if I was trying to be that guy still, then I should’ve not came. But I’m OK with trying to help Kawhi be great every night.”
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