NBA@2: Kobe Bryant In Beast Mode
Kobe Bryant: On Stranger Tides
As a general rule, when you make a sequel to a blockbuster hit it’s important to retain the original cast. The more a sequel can resemble the original the more likely it is to be successful; after all, it was wildly successful the first time around.
This rule is every bit as relevant to NBA champions as it is to Hollywood movies, and in the case of the Los Angeles Lakers the difference is sometimes lost in the shuffle. The Lakers have brought as many Hollywood endings to their followers as have the directors who live just up the street.
Last summer we saw two exceptions made to long-standing rules. The Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise produced a sequel with a very different cast, and the Lakers shuffled the long-standing lineup that had produced three recent NBA championships.
So far, it looks like both are working to be exceptions to the rule about sequels, and find success while also making major changes.
The Lakers have a new director . . .er . . .head coach in Mike Brown. Sixth-man Lamar Odom is gone, replaced by newcomers Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy; Andrew Bynum has gone from a character actor to a headliner; and one star has a new stage name. Despite all of this change, the Lakers look as good as the teams that went to the NBA Finals for three straight seasons before bowing out in the second round last year.
At the heart of it all is Kobe Bryant, who limped out of Dallas with his tail between his legs and his heart on his sleeve last summer. He underwent some experimental knee surgery during the offseason and has come back with a vengeance. Despite being 33 years old and suffering through nagging injuries, Kobe has been nothing short of brilliant through 12 games. He’s well ahead of his career averages almost across the board, pouring in 30.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists. He’s broken 40 points in each of the Lakers’ last two games.
Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum has stormed out of the gates like he’s trying to make the home town fans forget all about the Dwight Howard trade rumors. Bynum missed the first round games of the season due to a suspension, but has since been nearly Howard-esque, averaging 17.1 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. He recorded 29 points and 13 rebounds in his first game of the new season, and has also posted a 21-point, 22-rebound game. If he can stay healthy, Bynum might be Kobe’s new co-star.
Returning star Pau Gasol hasn’t lost a step, starting in place of Bynum to start the season and moving into his more comfortable role at power forward once Bynum returned. He’s averaging 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. His scoring is slightly below his career average, but his efficiency rating is up and playing like a champion.
McRoberts, Murphy and even Metta World Peace have been solid, rounding out a very deep cast of contributing role players, something every good team needs.
It seems those who suggested that the Lakers were finished may have been a little ahead of themselves.
Can Kobe Bryant sustain this level of play for 66 games through a compacted schedule that looks more like Major League Baseball than the NBA? That remains to be seen. But so far it looks like Kobe is a very strong MVP candidate once again, and his cast, though different, is vying for an Oscar . . .which is Hollywood talk for an NBA championship.
Redd Returning In “Attack Mode”
For a long time it looked like we would never see Michael Redd play basketball again. Two major injuries would be enough to end many professional athletes’ careers, particularly back-to-back. Redd appeared in just 33 games in 2008-09, 18 games in 2009-10, and missed the first 72 games of 2010-11. Fortunately for Redd, the ten games he played were the last ten games of the season, and they gave him reason to believe he can play basketball at an elite level once again.
“At this point I’m so far along in my recovery I’m not even thinking about the injury anymore,” Redd tells HOOPSWORLD. “It’s been 21 months, 22 months, since I had the surgery, so when I came back last year I was ready to go and play again. I came back and Scott Skiles worked me in five minutes here, five minutes there, then the last couple games I played 30 minutes a game. So when I came here to work out I was ready. My mind was ready, more importantly, so it worked out.”
Indeed, Redd scored in double-figures in two of his last three games and looked pretty good doing it. After that boost, followed by a lockout-lengthened offseason to work out and test his knee, Redd can’t wait to take the court with the Phoenix Suns.
“I’m Blessed to even play again,” says Redd. “After the second time around with that ACL I could see my career flash in front of me. So you know, this last year and a half two years I’ve learned so much without playing. I miss the game, and to be healthy again … I’m just grateful. I think that’s the word for me right. I’m now just grateful. When I get back it’s attack mode. It’s not being timid and soft out there I think I’m going to be aggressive and do what Michael Redd does.”
In many ways, Redd is a known quantity. Teams across the NBA understand that he’s a high-character guy with plenty of competitiveness in his blood. As such, Redd had no problem getting auditions with teams who just wanted to see how well he could move.
“You know what, all the teams wanted to look at me play more than anything. Phoenix was one of those we told from the beginning I wanted to come here and prove that I can move and still play. After a while, teams haven’t seen me. I came back last year but still it wasn’t the same and I came in and had a great workout and things happened well.”
“He’s a really, really good guy and you pull for the good guys in this league,” says Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “It’s unfortunate what has happened to him over the years, but I look at him as a Grant Hill type of guy. One of the reasons he chose to come to Phoenix is because of our medical staff. If anybody’s going to get him back and get him back to form it will be the guys from our medical staff. Obviously, he can help us offensively, create his own shot and do some things like that. He can fill a big gap for us, but we just have to make sure we have him ready to play. We can’t just stick him out there, so it’s probably going to be another ten days or so before we even start considering playing him.”
Aside from the excellent medical staff, Redd is especially looking forward to playing with, rather than against, Steve Nash.
“I’m tired of playing against him,” laughs Redd. “It’s a joy and honor to play with him, especially at this time of my career. I know he will make the game that much easier for me. He’s a terrific point guard, a Hall of Famer, we all know. I have really enjoyed just being around him these last couple of weeks.”
The Suns aren’t in a hurry to get Redd on the court, even though his offensive firepower is expected to help them improve their inconsistent offense.
“They’re processing me and progressing me slowly. Next week or so we’ll ramp it up a little more, but they’re taking their time with me. I’ve been learning plays, now I’m practicing with the team, just had a great practice with the team, so just trying to pick things up slowly.”
Phoenix has struggled early, but Redd believes that once he’s in uniform and the team has a little more time to mesh, they’ll be able to right the ship.
“We’re like every other team in the NBA after the lockout situation, trying to get the chemistry together. There’s new guys on this team so we’re trying to fill out spots, I like what I’ve seen early on. We have great shooters, and once we get our rhythm we’ll be OK.”
One thing’s for sure – it will be great to see Michael Redd return to the NBA and prove he still has plenty of game left in his surgically-repaired knee. If he can do that, success will most certainly follow for the Phoenix Suns.
Sense Of Urgency For Celtics
For the past two seasons one of the biggest concerns around the Boston Celtics’ hopes of getting back to the NBA Finals has been the age of the team. Paul Pierce is even starting to show signs of wear, and aside from Rajon Rondo he’s supposed to be the young star at the heart of the team. This year, more than ever, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers is conveying a sense of urgency to his team.
“He’s been talking about that pretty much every year,” Pierce said in a recent interview with WEEI in Boston. “When you look at the contracts, KG is up this year and Ray Allen is up this year, so you never know what the future is going to hold. Definitely, this is a year where you’re going to have to have a little more sense of urgency knowing that this is maybe the last time we can all be on the court together. That’s the way we’re taking it. Each and every day we come out here and play the game and especially when we’re around each other in the locker room, because you never know what’s going to happen next year.”
Pierce injured his heel during his first practice of training camp, and without him the Celtics started the season 0-3. They’ve since won four of six, and Pierce says the Celtics, like so many teams, are still trying to shake off the lockout-induced rust.
“I really didn’t have too much of a preseason but you can see the rust throughout the league with teams getting off to the starts they’re getting off to except for the teams that have been together for awhile. We’re still trying to find ourselves even though it’s seven games into the season. We’ve dealt with injuries, we still have guys we’re trying to implement into the offense and we have yet to see Mickael Pietrus out there, another addition we have.”
Pietrus did make his debut last night, scoring five points in 18 minutes as the Celtics lost to the Dallas Mavericks. Boston held the defending champs to 90 points on 44% shooting, but they managed just 85 points themselves against a Mavs team that has struggled to defend.
“I think it’s easier to pick up the defense than it is the offense because offense requires a lot of chemistry and knowing where guys are going to be,” Pierce explains. “I think defense is more effort and understanding the defensive scheme. A lot of teams are way more ahead of the mark defensively than offensively. When you’ve got the veterans in here like myself, KG, and Rondo who has been in this system the last four years it helps guys come along quickly.”
As for Pierce himself, he’s not looking to overdo it and risk further injury.
“I’m coming along slowly. Remember I’m coming off an injury so Doc hasn’t been wanting to push me too hard in my first few games. I haven’t had any practice time with the crew so that’s pretty much what that’s been about and we’ve been able to get leads through three quarters it’s allowed me to rest and try to get my injury all the way healed.”
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