Did you guys hear?
Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant is sick and may be questionable for tonight’s contest in Denver!
Okay, so no one actually believes Bryant will miss the game in any capacity, including his coach.
“If I were a betting guy, which I’m not, I would probably bet that he would play,” Mike Brown said.
It’s still big news though, and worth keeping an eye on because he really is “sick as a dog.”
Bryant’s Lakers, along with two other teams hoping to eliminate their opponents, will be on display tonight.
Chicago (2-3) at Philadelphia (3-2):
The Bulls held the 76ers to 69 points and just 26 first-half points on a season low 32.1 percent shooting.
Things got extra chippy as well, as Taj Gibson and Elton Brand got into a scuffle and exchanged elbows on the floor while teammates quickly surrounded the scene. There has been no word of any disciplinary action.
That may be bad news for Sixers center Spencer Hawes, who felt the presence of Gibson in Game 5.
From Vaughn McClure of Chicago Tribune: “The scratch marks scattered across the left side of Spencer Hawes’ face were indicative of how physical Game 5 between thePhiladelphia 76ers and Chicago Bulls became. Hawes briefly addressed the media after Thursday’s shootaround as his team prepared for Game 6. Before walking away, the center was asked who was responsible for the scar. ”Gibson,” Hawes said with scowl. Apparently, Bulls forward Taj Gibson inadvertently scraped Hawes’ face, although no foul was called on the play. It might be interesting to see how Hawes reacts Thursday night if Gibson gets physical once again.”He’s a good player, an active player,” Hawes said. “We made our adjustments. We’ll be ready to go tonight.”
The Bulls will need another stellar effort from Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, the main offensive weapons Tuesday, to avoid elimination in Philadelphia. They combined to score 43 points, more than half of Chicago’s total in Game 5.
From K.C. Johnson of Chicago Tribune: ”They have been called soft, overpaid and busts. They have heard criticism from countless corners outside the Bulls’ locker room. By tuning such noise out, what Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer have done serves as a microcosm of this Bulls’ season. Both players have overcome adversity not just to persevere but succeed. ”One thing about Carlos: He doesn’t let that stuff bother him. He shrugs it off,” Taj Gibson said. “That’s what I admire about him. It falls off his shoulder and he gets ready for the next game. And he’s the same every game. He’s solid. He never worries about the negative. He’s always consistent.” A repeat of Tuesday night’s performance would serve the Bulls well in Thursday’s must-win Game 6, as their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals shifts back to Philadelphia.”
The Sixers will get another chance to close out the Bulls, this time on their home floor, and try to become just the fifth No. 8 seed to upset a No. 1 seed. A lack of experience in playoff success may have played a role in their demise in Game 5.
From John Smallwood of Philadelphia Daily News: “OK, so Thursday night we’ll see what the Sixers learned. This season has been all about learning, growth and development, right? The Sixers just took a hard lesson. What happens now? I don’t think they underestimated the Bulls going into Game 5. I don’t think they looked at their wounded opponent without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and figured they had it in the bag. I just don’t think this group knew what to expect. Almost to a man, this team has never experienced success in the playoffs, so rushing out to a 3-1 series lead was an alien environment. Collins had said after his team won Game 4 that a close-out game is the toughest win in sports. Because of their lack of experience in such situations, I don’t think the Sixers fully comprehended the intensity and pride that the Bulls would bring into the game.”
The key to Philadelphia’s success may be coming out to a faster start and being more confident on the offensive end.
From Bob Cooney of The Inquirer: “In all but Game 2, the Sixers have shot the ball horrendously, but somehow have managed to lead by 3 games to 2. Tonight the key for them, they say, is getting off to a quick start. ”Early on, we need to look to offensively be confident,” said forward Andre Iguodala at this morning’s shootaround. “We need to go out there and try to have a sense of groupness out there, getting guys the ball and not make it tough on ourselves.”… Should the Sixers get off to that fast start they talked about, it would help negate the advantage Gibson brings when he comes off the bench, usually late in the first quarter. ”We have to get off to a good start and be aggressive early,” said center Spencer Hawes. “We need to get some momentum early and get into that good flow.”
Lou Williams finished second for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Atlanta (2-3) at Boston (3-2):
Rajon Rondo stole an inbounds pass from Josh Smith and ran up the court, but stumbled against the defense of Al Horford, allowing Smith to poke the ball away and prevent an exit out of the playoffs on their home court.
After the game, he directed some of his anger in the wrong direction.
Horford started and showed his team what it has missed for a majority of the season, stuffing the box score with 19 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks.
From Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Before Al returned to this series, the Hawks didn’t have a center the Celtics had to worry much about on the roll, on the pop or in the post. Now there is one center they have to worry about for all of those play types. As Jeff Teague put it after Game 5: “He’s a real athletic guy, athletic roller. And his presence to be able to pick-and-pop and he can switch it up and roll, that’s big.” Horford played 41 minutes and the Hawks had by far their most efficient scoring game of the series. Among the starters, Horford’s 0.9 points per possession were third to Marvin (1.25) and Teague. (1.0). Al’s four turnovers were the only blemish on his line. Now we’ll see how effective Al can be in Game 6 after playing so many minutes in just his second game back. Can he go 40 minutes again?”
The play of Kevin Garnett has been noteworthy thus far in the playoffs, and Boston will need him to play as many minutes as he can muster to have greater success on the floor, as the plus/minus would help indicate.
From Steve Bulpett of Boston Herald: “But the numbers say the Celts need a little more Garnett if they are to survive Game 6 against Atlanta this evening and advance deep into this postseason… After going for a minus-6 in the Game 1 loss to the Hawks, he has subsequently been plus-10, plus-11, plus-33 and plus-17. This has come in games the Celtics have, in order, lost by nine, won by seven, six and 22, and lost by one. Historians will note that Wilt Chamberlain averaged 47.1 minutes at age 36 in his last postseason, but KG’s is a different body type. Against the Hawks, Garnett is averaging 37.6 minutes (with a low of 27 in the Game 4 blowout) and producing 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds. But his effect on the game goes far deeper now that he is playing inside more on offense. “And I don’t think we went in to him enough (in Game 5),” said Rivers. “But he’s been going down there. He wants to go down there right now. He’s been great.”
The Celtics received some bad news about the injuries to Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley, although they are expected to play in tonight’s contest.
From Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston: “Boston Celtics starters Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley have more serious injuries than previously thought, but both players went through the morning shootaround Thursday and are expected to play in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against theAtlanta Hawks. The team revealed that Pierce has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, while Bradley has a strained left rotator cuff. Pierce suffered the MCL sprain during a shootaround before Game 4 Sunday in Boston and further aggravated it in a collision with Josh Smith that night. He looked hobbled at times in Game 5. Bradley injured his left shoulder in Game 3 Friday, and coach Doc Rivers said he had endured multiple dislocations this season.”
Los Angeles Lakers (3-2) at Denver (2-3):
That is precisely what he has become after his Game 5 performance in which he scored 21 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, negated the size of the Lakers and exceeded the play of Andrew Bynum who had 16 points and 11 boards.
Andre Miller was pretty good, too, coming off the bench with 24 points and eight assists while controlling the pace of the game to his advantage.
As happy and excited George Karl was with the 102-99 victory Tuesday, he and the rest of the Nuggets realize they have to move past the excitement of one game, as they still face the risk of elimination with one more loss.
From Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: “Less than 24 hours after his team’s odds-defying win over the Lakers, Nuggets coach George Karl was still smiling. But he also was ready to move on. Karl has been here before, and as the coach in these NBA playoffs with the second-most postseason victories (78), he understands the Nuggets have plenty of work left to do. So Wednesday morning he went about the business of reeling in any players who had the look of letting euphoria take over and cause too much satisfaction. ”We’ve got to worry about just controlling our happiness,” Karl said, sitting in a conference room at the team hotel before flying to Denver. “The real serious games are coming up (tonight), and if we’re fortunate to figure out how to win that game, then we get an opportunity to play an incredible seventh game.”
Looking mostly invisible through the first four games, Arron Afflalo finally contributed in a big way. He will have to continue to provide the much-needed spark to keep Kobe Bryant working on the defensive end.
More from Dempsey: “Afflalo scored a playoff career-high 19 points in the 102-99 victory. It came on 8-of-19 shooting. It came via heightened aggressiveness. It came, yes, with a jump shot or two as well. He also had five rebounds and three steals. ”In a closeout game, you just go out there and try to step up a little bit and be aggressive,” Afflalo said, “and see where it leads you.” Everyone with the Nuggets hopes it leads him back to the comfortable space he occupied in April, a month when he was night in, night out, arguably the Nuggets’ best player. Then, there wasn’t a shot he couldn’t make, and the Nuggets were the beneficiaries.”
Meanwhile, Chris Andersen – not having played thus far in the playoffs – has become a distraction for the team as he is apparently involved in an internet crimes against children investigation.
Bryant is averaging a league-high 31.2 points per game in the playoffs, but may be hard-pressed to continue the scoring binge Thursday in Denver.
He missed the morning shootaround on Thursday and is reportedly suffering from gastrointeritis. It’s difficult to imagine that he would miss a game of this
altitude magnitude, though, and perhaps he can finally have his “Michael Jordan flu-game.”
It will certainly be more difficult to do what he did on Tuesday, when he singlehandedly brought his team back with 43 points that included a barrage of 3-pointers down the stretch.
Meanwhile, if Bynum thinks closing out a series in the playoffs is an easy task, he may want to try playing like it in the remaining games, and not let McGee look like Wilt Chamberlain.
From Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles: “For as long as anyone can remember in these parts, Andrew Bynum has said pretty much whatever he wanted. Good, bad or indifferent, what was in his head came out of his mouth. In his younger days, before he became one of the best centers in the game and a guy the Lakers started counting on, that candor was refreshing and amusing. But now, when Bynum’s words are taken by fans, teammates and opponents as the opinion of one of the Lakers’ leaders, it sits differently. There was nothing wrong with Bynum saying that “closeout games are actually kind of easy” because “teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning.” It was bold, but truthful. But the problem with leading with swagger is how bad it looks if you don’t back it up in the game. For about six minutes in the Lakers’ 102-99 loss to the Nuggets, Bynum played with the kind of energy and attitude that backed up his words. Six minutes out of the 48 biggest minutes of the Lakers’ season, and the wrong six minutes at that.”
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.