Podcast: Bill Walton And Luke Walton Talk About Romance, Love And Basketball

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This afternoon I was able to talk with Bill Walton and Luke Walton about romance, love, Valentine’s Day, all-star weekend and basketball.

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2012-13 NBA Season Storylines To Watch

With the NBA kicking of this week, it’s the perfect time to take a look at all the key storylines fans will be following this season.

Buckle up, because it looks to be one heck of a season.

No Fuel For LeBron’s Haters
LeBron James was cast as a villain for the majority of the past two NBA seasons after his bold and cocky “Decision” to take his talents to South Beach. However, after winning an NBA Championship and putting on one of the more incredible individual performances in recent memory during the playoffs last spring, it appears the stink from two summers ago is finally off LeBron. He is only 27-years-old and it’s clear he still hasn’t reached his peak as a player. Now what can the haters cling to? Lame jokes about his receding hairline? Here’s to hoping to basketball fans have finally moved past his bad decisions two summers ago and they start to enjoy one of the better talents the game of basketball has ever witnessed.

Ray Allen Against The Celtics
Wow, things got nasty between Ray Allen and the Boston Celtics in a hurry. Within weeks of Allen bolting Beantown for South Beach, the haters came out of the woodwork in a hurry. Kevin Garnett claimed to no longer have Ray Allen’s phone number. Doc Rivers lamented to the Boston media how hurt he was by Allen’s decision. And Celtics fans? Look for them to be loud and passionate in booing Allen when he returns to Boston on January 27, 2013.

Allen, who normally doesn’t talk with the media about drama, gave interviews to a couple Miami outlets this month to clear the air and share his side of the story.

Personally, I find it entertaining how much drama a role player who will only get 20-25 minutes per game is generating.

Will There Be Drama In Los Angeles?
On paper, the Los Angeles Lakers should roll to the NBA Finals. However, as the old adage goes, there’s a reason why they play the games. It will be interesting to see how the egos of Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant mesh. Plus, Steve Nash has been winning the battle against Father Time thanks to the amazing work the Phoenix Suns’ training staff has done with his body. It will be interesting to see how the grizzled vet handles the rigors of an 82-game schedule without the safety blanket of the Suns training staff and with Steve Blake being his backup.

How Will Pacers Handle Expectations?
So far, not so good. Real games haven’t even started and already Danny Granger is complaining about his knee. It was looked at by doctors and they assume he can play through some pain, but Granger is complaining about not being able to gut it out. I’m planning on writing a story this week about how the Pacers are dealing with the burden of expectations after talking with the players and Frank Vogul when they are in Toronto on Wednesday. Stay tuned to Sportsnet for that column later this week.

The Brooklyn Nets Will Fail To Meet Expectations
Speaking of failing to meet expectations, look for the Brooklyn Nets to give the New York tabloids plenty of fodder this season as they will struggle to become one of the elite teams in their own division, let alone the Eastern Conference. Sure, the roster looks splashy with names like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez, but who on that roster is known for playing gritty defence? Look for the Nets to get killed off dribble penetration and for their bigs to get posterized on a regular basis. If this Nets team doesn’t figure out a way to play effective defence their season will be a resounding disappointment.

Are The Spurs Too Old?
Last season one of the more comical moments came when Gregg Popovich gave Tim Duncan the night off and the box score said it was because Duncan was old. While funny, the reality is Duncan has played 1,111 regular season NBA games and 190 playoff games. The treads on the tires has to be running pretty low at this point. Throw in the fact the rest of their core – Tony Parker (958) and Manu Ginobili (803) – have played a combined 1,761 games in the NBA on top of busy summers playing for their national teams. It will be interesting to see what Popovich can do to ensure his veteran team is fresh for a deep run in the playoffs. But, if last season is any indication, it just means the team’s younger players will get extended minutes during the regular season to help with their development.

Is The Jeremy Lin Fairy Tale Over?
Jeremy Lin became an instant internet and global hit within the matter of weeks and the New York Knicks weren’t sure he could sustain that so they let him sign with the Houston Rockets this summer. Through his first six preseason games Lin has averaged 30.2 minutes per game but he is shooting 13-46 (28%) from the field. Yuck. Hopefully it’s just a matter of rust and once the games start to count he is able to elevate his game.

Can Chicago Stay Afloat Until Rose Returns?
Derrick Rose is scheduled to return from offseason knee surgery in February, but it’s likely the Bulls season could be toast by then. The Bulls are using a backcourt rotation of Kirk Hinrich, Marco Bellinelli, Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Rip Hamilton. Yuck. In my humble opinion, that’s the worst backcourt in the NBA, and the team will struggle mightily until Rose returns.

Lakers Face Another Summer Of Turmoil

Being ousted in the Conference Semifinals for the second consecutive season has thrust Lakers Nation into a state of turmoil.

“Sitting here at this point in the year is definitely not satisfying,” Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown admitted to the media. “Under the circumstances, I feel like we got a lot accomplished and feel we learned a lot… but we can be better.”

One of the main ways the Lakers can get better is clarifying the roles of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum moving forward. With a new head coach added to the mix this season, Gasol struggled adapting and then he had problems getting used to being the third option on offence.

Sure, part of that is due to a compressed training camp, but the reality of the situation is Brown would like to see Kobe Bryant and Bynum get the majority of the touches on offence next season.

“With Andrew (Bynum) having a bigger role within what we do especially offensively, it made it a little tougher for Pau (Gasol), ” Brown explained. “With Andrew on one block and Kobe (Bryant) on the other, and Metta (World Peace), it was (tough to get opportunities at times). But I thought he adjusted really well.”

As great as Gasol has been for the Lakers the past few seasons, there is currently a shift in place to have Bynum become the focus of the teams offence in the low post instead of Gasol.

“I think (Andrew Bynum) can be a cornerstone to an organization,” Brown boasted. “But you have to remember that Andrew is still learning what he’s (eventually) going to be. He didn’t play near the minutes (as he did in 2011-12). He needs time and the commitment to want to get better every time he steps onto the floor. The sky really is the limit on how good he wants to be.”

This shift in focus by the coaching staff and touches for Gasol has resulted in him being unsure where that leaves his future with the Lakers.

“I wish I could have clarification (about his future with the team) but they can’t give it to me right now,” Gasol lamented. “I think management still has to talk to ownership to see what direction this team will be going next year. We really didn’t talk much about the future. We talked about this year, how things have gone. Everything was really positive and encouraging for (the) potential (of) next season.”

Hearing Gasol talk about the potential of playing for a team besides the Lakers next season can’t be what he or fans of the team want to hear. However, the Spaniard will be 32-years-old when training camp kicks off and he will have a lot of wear due to playing heavy minutes in the NBA and playing for the Spanish national team during the summer.

Plus, besides getting up in age, Gasol was confused at times this season as to what Brown and his teammates needed or expected from him on the court.

“It’s a little difficult,” Gasol admitted. “ I’ve always been a good passer and I facilitated from the most part from the post, which I’m very good at. It has been an adjustment for me, it has been difficult to be pretty much a third option, because I’ve never experienced that in my career since I was very young. I still gave it my best, but that was challenging at times.”

Regardless of the reason why the Lakers flamed out in the second round of the playoffs, it’s clear their general manager, Mitch Kupchak, isn’t content with standing pat with the roster as currently constructed.

“When you lose before you think you should have lost, you have to open up all opportunities,” Kupchak told the media during exit interviews.

One of the players being mentioned in a lot of trade talk, Pau Gasol, seems to be aware of this and the topic was brought up during exit interviews between himself and Kupchak.

“He’s the consummate teammate, consummate professional, but what took place is hard for a player to deal with,” Kupchak admitted. “I’m sure there’s a little bit of trust that’s not quite the same. But he understands … our exit meeting was really good. I think he and I are on the same page.”

Complimentary, sure, but not exactly a ringing endorsement for the Spaniard sticking around for next season in Los Angeles.

Despite the fact the Lakers failed to advance as far as the team or its fans would have liked, it’s clear there is still a lot of faith in the players currently on the roster.

“I just didn’t feel we really hit our stride,” Barnes explained. “I think at times we showed flashes of how dominant we could be, but we really didn’t reel off six, seven, eight or nine consistent, convincing wins that you kind of need to really feel good about yourself. Any time you have a big three like we have, you’re always going to have a chance, but it takes more than three guys to win and there wasn’t really that consistency.”

Steve Blake echoed those sentiments and pointed back to the lack of a true training camp after adding a new head coach as being the culprit for the team failing to live up to expectations.

“More time definitely would have helped us out, maybe (allowed us to) figure out certain areas of the game to make us better,” said Blake. “But you can’t blame (our not winning) on that. I do think having a longer camp next year, us being with this coaching staff and getting more comfortable with them, always will help you.”

Even though the players want the same crew back, they don’t have a vote in the process. The man in charge, Kupchak, talked openly with the media this week about being disappointed and it sounds like he’s ready to make some moves this summer.

“We’re disappointed,” Kupchak admitted. “We don’t grade ourselves on getting into the second round. We thought going into the season that we were one of three or four or five teams that could contend for a championship. It’s hard to get in that position with 30 owners that are very competitive, having to operate under (now different) rules. We felt we had a shot at it, so to watch the conference semifinals was a disappointing feeling.”

Still, despite some harsh words, the embattled general manager left the door open for the current roster returning.

“If we were just able to bring the players back next year and have a full training camp, we’d be one of those five or six teams with a chance to (win a championship),” Kupchak boasted. “ I can’t tell you if that’s going to happen. It’s not like we don’t have a group that’s talented, and that’s all you can really hope for.”

It remains to be seen if the Lakers stick with their currently roster of player, but, if I were a gambling man, I’d put money on the Lakers rolling the dice and making a deal involving Gasol.

Thunder Capitalize On Gift-Wrapped Victory

With 2:08 left on the clock, Game 2 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers was all but over.

That is until Kobe Bryant giftwrapped the game and handed it to the Thunder.

The Lakers owned a 75-68 lead and the Thunder were in the midst of one of the most miserable halves of their season. Kevin Durant wasn’t shooting enough, Serge Ibaka shot too much and Kobe started to turn on the Kobe.

It was over and the Thunder had all but handed the Lakers their first win of the series. Then, Bryant turned around and gave Oklahoma City the best thing they could have ever asked for: a chance.

With 1:48 remaining and the game all but sewed up, Bryant looked to pass the ball into the post. Durant, Thunder coach Scott Brook’s defensive secret weapon at the end of games, reached up with every inch of his nine-foot wingspan and plucked his pass straight out of the air, drove to the basket and cut the Lakers’ lead to three.

“He’s (Durant) guarding the best player in basketball,” Brooks said after the game. “It takes a team to stop him (Bryant). There was a moment when I thought Kobe was really starting to feel it and I thought Kevin’s length could bother him.”

“It was a great play,” Bryant said. “He just jumped the passing lane and got a good steal. Other than that, I was just too far away from the basket.”

The Lakers kept the Thunder from scoring after another turnover, but with 1:01 left on the clock, Bryant, so used to the late game drama, missed a fade-away that would have ultimately sealed the deal and sent the Lakers home with a huge win. Instead, Kendrick Perkins grabbed the rebound, Harden drove to the basket and with 56 seconds left, the Thunder was down by one.

Los Angeles still had the lead. With under a minute, they were still in the driver’s seat. All they had to do was milk the clock and get to the basket for a layup or a foul.

Easier said than done, even with Bryant.

Bryant had already helped get Oklahoma City back in the game with his turnover two possessions prior and wasn’t exactly feeling it after missing a fade-away. So, after draining the clock with the lead in hand, what did he do? He launched a three that clanked and landed in the hands of Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook got the ball to Durant and with 18.6 seconds left, the NBA’s leading scorer put the Thunder up by one with a seven-foot floater reminiscent of his game winner against Dallas in Game 1 of the first round.

Los Angeles tried to respond with a flare out to Bryant, but Metta World Peace instead passed to Steve Blake who launched a desperation-three, missed and gave Oklahoma City a 2-0 series advantage.

“I got open,” Bryant said. “I don’t know what Metta (World Peace) saw, but he kicked it to Steve (Blake) and I got in position for the rebound. I couldn’t pull it down.”

The Lakers will now head home disappointed. They can’t be disappointed that they lost two games in one of the loudest arenas in the league, but in the fact that their star player couldn’t lockup the game like he’s so used to doing.

Bryant is one of the game’s greatest players of all time, as professed by Brooks after Game 1 Monday night. However, in the clutch Wednesday, he looked more like an aging veteran than the assassin he has been over 16 years.

Kobe just wasn’t Kobe.

Give all the credit in the world to Oklahoma City. They got the job done. Their superstar (Durant) came up big in the clutch and L.A.’s star didn’t. For 46 minutes it was the Lakers’ game to win, but in the final minutes the Thunder capitalized on costly Laker mistakes and ultimately stole the victory.

“This is what the series is going to be about,” Brooks said after the game. “Each game is going to be a one or two possession game going forward. Each game is going to be physical, but we feel we can win that way.”

Instead of taking the game from the Thunder, Kobe gave it to them. It’s a mistake he has so rarely surrendered over the course of his career, but it could end up being the demise of this year’s Lakers.

It could also be a boost for Oklahoma City, a boost that could lead them to the Western Conference Finals and ultimately an NBA championship.

Durant May Be The Best Closer In NBA

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were outscored 9-0 late in the game.

LeBron James takes a lot of, well, Heat for not finishing ballgames. And a lot of it is warranted, the way he tends to disappear and almost takes himself out of plays when it comes to clutch time.

Kobe Bryant, however, is known as “the best closer in the game” by many.

But not on Wednesday.

The Lakers butchered a seven-point lead with two minutes to go, with Bryant having a hand in a majority of those miscues down the stretch of a 77-75 loss at Oklahoma City.

Here’s how the play-by-play looked down the stretch, and it didn’t look good for Bryant:

3:20: Bryant misses 24-footer.
3:16 Bryant foul on Westbrook.
1:59 James Harden drives past Bryant for layup, LA leads 75-70.
1:47 Bryant turnover, Durant steal and dunk, LA leads 75-72.
1:39 Steve Blake pass goes off Bryant’s hand.
1:00 Harden blocks a Bryant field-goal attempt.
0:56 Harden scores again past Bryant, LA leads 75-74.
0:36 Bryant misses 3-point attempt.
0:34 Durant runner, OKC takes the lead 76-75.

Former L.A. Times columnist and ESPN writer J.A. Adande summed it up best with his tweet afterward: Based on the last 2 nights, the answer to Kobe vs. Lebron? is “none of the above.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Maybe the best player of the postseason is Kevin Durant, who led the Thunder on a 9-0 run to end the game. He’s definitely starting to make the MVP voters reconsider their votes cast last month.

As for the Lakers, this all but wraps it up for their season (with back-to-back games Friday and Saturday, it’s going to be tough to take Games 3 and 4 in L.A.). And when Bryant can’t close out a game, you know the Lakers are in trouble. And when his teammates are throwing up their arms in disgust, as Andrew Bynum did late in the game on multiple occasions, it’s clear the team is dysfunctional and has too many issues to be overcoming what is clearly the best young team in the league.

Where do they go from here? That’s anybody’s guess, but if Bryant is starting to lose his touch — on top of all of the other issues the Lakers are having — you know the franchise is in trouble.

Pivotal Game 7 For Lakers, Bryant

Tonight the 16-time NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers will seek to avoid a first round playoff exit at the hand of the Denver Nuggets.

After a Game 6 loss in which Kobe Bryant (playing with stomach ailment) couldn’t pull a Michael Jordan, the boys in yellow and purple have their back against the wall and are going up against a very confident Denver team.

Denver had all the momentum in this series, but after being down 3-1, the Nuggets have come roaring back into this series.

This has been one of the better playoff series in recent memory and everyone seems a bit anxious for this highly anticipated Game 7, even George Karl, the Nuggets veteran head coach.

“I’m nervous already,” Karl said Friday before the Nuggets caught another flight to Los Angeles. “I am 61-years-old and I haven’t been nervous for a game this early in a long time.”

Denver’s Ty Lawson has been the key in this series. The former North Carolina Tar Heel has been using his immense quickness to drive into the lane and get the Lakers’ big men in foul trouble. Lawson had 32 points and six assists in the Nuggets Game 6 win on Thursday night.

Danilo Gallinari has been a nightmare for the Lakers once vaunted defense. Look for Lawson and Gallinari to step their games up to a whole new level tonight.

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol can’t stop Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. These are facts that are hard to dispute. As long as McGee learns to use his head once in awhile, it shouldn’t be any different in Game 7. Gasol is soft and he doesn’t take to contact well. For the Nuggets to be successful in this game they will need exploit the Lakers every weakness.

If the Lakers two big men do decide to stand their ground then the Lake show should have no trouble advancing. However, if the rest of this series is any indication, that is a very big if.

Some good news for the Lakers, however, as Metta World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, will be starting tonight. World Peace missed the first six games of this series due to a suspension for an elbow to the head of Thunder guard James Harden.

That’s the good news, the great news is that they still have a man on their team named Kobe Bryant. Arguably the most clutch player in NBA history, a five time NBA champion. If anybody knows how to win it’s Bryant as he is 4 and 1 in his illustrious career in Game 7’s.