Mike Looks Back

What a moving celebration of Kobe’s and Gianna’s lives. In the spirit of having gratitude for the good times, here’s a fond memory of a lighthearted moment I shared with Kobe.

Gameday Dish: Lakers at Nuggets

Both the Nuggets and Lakers are looking to improve upon their latest performances. On Tuesday night, Denver lost 144 to 113 at Indiana, making them an even 4-4 for the season. The run-and-gunners got a taste of their own medicine when the Pacers fired 54 points in the third quarter – the most points scored by a team in one NBA quarter in 20 years. To put that in perspective, number one overall pick John Wall was barely two months old the last time a squad put up that many points in 12 NBA basketball minutes.

The Lakers along with the New Orleans Hornets are the only teams left in the NBA with unblemished records. At 8-0, the 2010 NBA Champs have come out of the blocks looking close-to-dominant. With eight wins against no losses, this version of the Lake Show is tied for second-best start ever for a Lakers team. And this is all being done without siixth-year center Andrew Bynum, who has not played so far this season due to a summer surgery on his right knee. Only the 1997-98 Purple & Gold, at 11-0, stand ahead of this year’s team when it comes to start of the season sizzle.

With Los Angeles’ on-target, long-range 3-bombing leading the league at 43.5%, the Nuggets team defense better pay special attention to their perimeter play, especially after allowing the Pacers to hit 16 threes in their last game. Denver bested the Lakers in 3 of 4 meetings last season and took them to six games in the 2009 Western Conference Finals, proving they are capable of derailing the champs. Denver will be looking for redemption tonight and hoping to capitalize on the vulnerability the Lakers displayed in their latest matchup.

In Tuesday’s victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, LA played what can be fairly described as their weakest contest of this early season. The Wolves out-rebounded them 54-42 in their 99-94 loss. To continue their winning ways Los Angeles will have to improve on the boards against a tough, physical Denver front line led by superstar forward Carmelo Anthony.

Speaking of #15 on the Nuggets roster, Anthony’s extension-refusal, almost-traded, maybe-gone, still-here, stay-or-go mini drama still hangs over everything the Denver franchise does.  The subtitle to this season in the Rocky Mountain State could be called ‘Melo Movements?’ with emphasis on the question mark.

Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and I will team up tonight to bring you live coverage from the Pepsi Center on NBA on TNT at 10:30 PM EST following the Boston Celtics at Miami Heat.

Czar Asks You

Barcelona born brothers Pau and Marc Gasol faced off in Los Angeles tonight. Western Conference Player of the Week Pau outscored and outrebounded Marc in the Lakers’ decisive 124-105 win over Memphis.

Younger brother Marc moved to Tennessee with his parents when Pau signed with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2001. And again he followed Pau’s lead when he joined the Grizzlies after the Lakers traded the rights to Marc in a multi-player deal to acquire Pau in February 2008.

Now entering his third year in the NBA, Marc Gasol is an up-and-coming star who, in Phil Jackson’s words, is a “tougher, more powerful player than (Pau).” But 2× NBA Champion and 3× NBA All-Star Pau Gasol has set the bar high.

Will Marc Gasol continue to follow in Pau’s footsteps and lead his team to an NBA Championship some day?

Gameday Dish: Heat at Celtics Season Opener

The Heat and the Celtics have their eyes on the same prize: getting to and winning the NBA Finals in June. The Lakers will be showing off their newly acquired championship rings in a pregame ceremony at the Staples Center tonight and appear ready to threepeat for another title and more bling.

Rings, this game is all about championship rings: LeBron on the beach looking for that first ring; Shaq in Boston determined to get championship number five to keep up with his former teammate and now trophy rival Kobe Bryant.

The finals are a very long, arduous regular season away. But there’s the type of buzz surrounding the start of this season that we usually don’t encounter until playoff time. And tonight’s opener between the Celtics and Heat features two teams at the center of the drama as the Celtics’ Big Three Pierce, Garnett and Allen prepare to do battle with Miami’s newly formed triumvirate of James, Wade and Bosh for Eastern Conference supremacy

Tonight’s matchup will put into motion the many exciting subplots set to play out this season. Will D-Wade occupy seat 1 or seat 2? Will Rajon Rondo make the proverbial jump to superstar? How will Kendrick Perkins’ injured knee and his mid-season return to the starting lineup affect the Celts? Will Miami’s supporting cast surrounding the stars step up and deliver? Will Coach Doc Rivers be happy with his big decision to come back to the Boston bench after the heartbreaking Game 7 loss in last year’s Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. And how will second-year head coach Erik Spoelstra lead his new awesome threesome?

Did I mention LeBron James joining Dwyane Wade and the Heat?

The biggest star in professional basketball (professional sports?) leaves his almost-hometown team (the Akron Cavs?) via a prime-time television special and relocates to flashy, splashy Miami to join forces with D-Wade, Chris Bosh and Pat Boss, aka team president Pat Riley.

Some prognosticators have been throwing around the Michael Jordan-led 1995-96 Champion Chicago Bulls and their 72-10 all-time best regular season mark as a measuring stick for this Miami team. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman … James, Wade and Bosh – different eras, different players for sure, but similar expectations in many fans’ and even experts’ minds.

Anything less than a dominating start of the season in the wins column will be viewed as a letdown for this newer than new Miami Heat squad.  Expectations of success are higher than maybe any team has shouldered since those mid-to-late 90’s Bulls teams that won three titles back-to-back-to-back.

The Celtics on the other hand, having won the crown in 2008 with what was then considered a veteran team, are statistically the oldest team in the NBA and may be forgiven for some regular season stretches of sub-par play due to wear and tear.

However, Boston fans could taste franchise-record title 18 until the final, final moments of Finals’ Game 7 last year and are hungry for another championship banner to add to the Celtics’ collection in the rafters of the TD Garden.

The quest for the coveted 2011 NBA Championship ring starts tonight. Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and I have Miami Heat at Boston Celtics at 7:30 PM EST on TNT.

Fratello’s Fantasy Picks: Beyond the Draft

The NBA season is a long one and player values fluctuate throughout. Put these guys on your Fantasy watch list and see how their numbers are adding up when it comes time to tweak your roster and bolster your reserves down the line.

Taj Gibson  (Bulls – PF)

Taj Gibson is so important to Chicago right now because of the injury to Boozer, and he will play significant minutes until Boozer comes back.

Whether starting at the four position or coming off the bench, Gibson did a solid job for the Bulls last year and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Gibson put up 18 double doubles and showed he can rebound the ball, averaging 7.5 boards per game. Now the Bulls need him to step up his level of play as his offensive game continues to grow and develop.

Gibson has a toughness about him, and Tom Thibodeau likes tough-minded players. With a new coach to impress I expect Gibson to work hard to make significant contributions in order to keep up his minutes as the season progresses.

Jonny Flynn (Timberwolves – PG)

Last year’s sixth overall draft pick Jonny Flynn will be sidelined for the start of the season due to a hip injury that required him to undergo surgery in July.

The Wolves picked up veteran Luke Ridnour to fill in for Flynn during his absence. And though Ridnour will challenge him for the starting point guard position, Flynn will likely run the show once he returns to full health.

Flynn exhibits a tremendous passion for the game. While undersized, Flynn possesses strength, athleticism and quickness.

An explosive scorer off the dribble, Flynn’s first instinct is to light up the scoreboard. But the above-average passer has two great low posts to dish to in Michael Beasley and Kevin Love. I expect these guys to get results as the Timberwolves look to drastically improve upon last season’s record.

Steve Blake (Lakers – PG)

Steve Blake was an excellent pickup for the Lakers after their reserve guard Jordan Farmar shipped East upon signing a three-year deal with the New Jersey Nets.

Blake can make an open shot, and it is so important for the point guard to be a spot-up shooter to be effective within Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. Rather than relying on speed and quickness, the triangle offense requires getting to certain spots and being able to make a shot after running cuts. Blake can do that – he can hit the open three.

Blake’s minutes will likely fluctuate. But because of his age, Blake can play significant minutes if Phil needs him in order to save Derek Fisher for the back stretch and the playoffs when the Lakers need him most.

J.J. Redick (Orlando – SG)

Entering his fifth year with the Magic, J.J. Redick has gotten better and better each of the last three seasons. A great free throw shooter with unlimited range, Redick went from being a guy who really struggled during his rookie year to someone who appears to be playing with big confidence.

In turn Stan Van Gundy has gained more confidence in Redick and his minutes have increased accordingly. Redick is a terrific shooter; he’s got toughness, and he figured out how he can play and be a contributor on an NBA club.

Stan continues to take stock in Redick, as evidenced by the three-year deal Redick signed prior to the start of the season, reportedly worth $20.19 million. Redick should continue to improve as both a shooter and a defender.

Joel Przybilla (Trail Blazers – C)

Though Joel Przybilla will not rejoin the Trail Blazers’ bench until November when he recovers from the ruptured patella tendon that ended his season last year, he could become valuable soon after his return because center Greg Oden will likely be out until at least  mid-December.

Przybilla is a very serviceable center who will give you good minutes. An effective screener, Przybilla allows Portland to get high percentage shots on offense. He also creates a number of second shot opportunities because of his rebounding skills. Last season Przybilla was a productive rebounder and shot blocker who effectively covered the front of the rim.

These are Przybilla’s strengths, so if you’re looking for a boost in these boxes he could be an asset. Anything he gives you offensively is gravy.