The In-Jury’s Out: Kobe Bryant & Derrick Rose

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Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose are two of the most exciting players the NBA has to offer. Kobe has been the face of the NBA for years, especially  after  Michael Jordan retired. Rose is a rising star in the place where Jordan made basketball relevant,  Chicago. However, these stars have been dealt tough obstacles to overcome in their careers with brutal injuries. Kobe, on the back end of his career, suffered a torn  Achilles injury at the end of last season. Rose, whose career is blossoming, tore his ACL in a playoff game two seasons ago and had to miss the entire 2012-13 season. Without these superstars, their teams are helpless and irrelevant. Without these superstars, the NBA is without two key franchises to its growing brand.

Two seasons ago Rose and the Bulls were positioned to challenge the Miami Heat when Rose injured himself in the first round of the playoffs against the 76ers. Last year, to the dismay of all NBA and Bulls fans, Rose sat out the entire year including the playoffs. The team still had Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, but no one ever could take it  seriously as a contender. The Bulls  even matched up against the Heat in the playoffs and stole Game 1 in Miami, before they proceeded to be eliminated. You know you have come to desperate measures when the most exciting guy on your team is 5 foot 7 and that’s being generous. Nate Robinson provided a spark for the Bulls, but a spark that size is not a good recipe for success.

With Rose returning this year, the excitement and expectations are back in Chicago. Through ten games, they are 6-4 and have handed the Pacers their only loss of the season. However, Rose has struggled a bit and seems rusty. This is nothing surprising, given the injury he endured, and he should become stronger as the season progresses along. Rose wasn’t built in a day. He has hit a game winning shot against the Knicks and made some explosive plays that would make Wyle E. Coyote say, “Wow! That’s explosive.” His athleticism is unprecedented for a point guard and his ability to attack the hoop is a spectacle to watch. The Heat and Pacers should take notice.rose2

Bryant tore his Achilles tendon last year, and then tore all hope from every Laker fan. Since the Kobe-Shaq era ended, there has arguably been no player more important to his team’s success then Bryant. He is the brains, heart and courage of the team as he leads his players down the purple and yellow brick road. Just like the Bulls last year, the Lakers — barely — made the playoffs, but no one could even consider picking them to advance without the Black Mamba. The San Antonio Spurs swept the Lakers like a pushbroom after a garage sale.  Dwight Howard is no Kobe, not even close.

Even with Dwight, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, the Lakers looked like a lottery team without Kobe. We all know how determined Kobe is to return quickly this year. He has been able to overcome injuries throughout his career like he was a Terminator Machine. Entering his 18th season, Kobe faces his most serious injury ever, and many experts out there are saying he is done and will never be the same. Maybe this is a reality Laker fans must face. Maybe not. The Laker organization has money saved up to rake in some top free agents next season.  Names like LeBron and Carmelo Anthony come to mind. Before this bridge gets crossed, it must be seen how Kobe plays when he returns. And his team desperately needs him.

The Lakers version of Robinson this year has been Steve Blake. Or as they call him, the “White Mamba.” The White Mamba has hit a game-winning three pointer on the road against theRockets this year, but more often than not, the Lakers have been mediocre and inconsistent. They have indeed shown glimpses of greatness from a bunch of young talent, but they seem to only play like this against lowly teams. Their leading scorer is averaging 13 points a game. Kobe can put that up in a quarter, maybe half a quarter.

The Los Angeles Lakers are very important to the NBA. Having won 16 titles, the NBA does well when the Lakers are doing well. The Lakers cannot do well without Kobe. It’s like watching the Dark Knight without seeing Batman in any of the movie. It is like trying to win in chess without your queen. Having a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich is not the same without the Peanut Butter. And the Lakers as just a jelly sandwich are going nowhere. Soggy. Kobe’s team needs him, and he needs his team. The Lakers and the NBA anxiously anticipate the Mamba’s return, and hope he can overcome the toughest injury out there to flourish again on the court.

Kobe BryantThe Lakers and Bulls are more than capable of challenging for a championship this year. Most would agree that Bulls roster is more primed for a playoff run, but if Lakers can get healthy, you never know. The West is very much up for grabs. The success of the Bulls and Lakers fortunately and unfortunately is highly dependent on one player. With  Rose, the Bulls have shown this year that they are a force to be reckoned with even a matador would be scared of. Without him, there is no optimism or chance in Chicago. In LA, a new era of mediocrity is moving in quickly, with Kobe  as the last hope to restore some order to Staples Center. The Lakers without Kobe are only a contender for a lottery pick.

It remains to be seen if the Bulls and Rose bloom throughout the year, prepping for a playoff run to challenge the Heat and Pacers. If Rose does not return to form, it will  surely be only a two-team race to the NBA Finals. The Lakers need to hang in there until Kobe gets back. Even at this stage of his career, I am very confident Kobe can resume playing at a high level. How high? This is the most important question of the year. The Lakers, the NBA and this NBA fan are hoping the Black Mamba has some venom left.

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Paul Culley
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Big Expectations in the Big Apple

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They say there is nothing louder than a New Yorker, so if you haven’t heard about the success of the New York Knicks this year, consider yourself one of the few. The Knicks have been making a lot of noise in the early part of this season turning it around from last season. The Knicks have rocketed off to a 22-10 start and are leading the “who can possibly beat the Heat” race in the Eastern Conference. The MVP-caliber play of Carmelo Anthony, Coach of the Year candidate Mike Woodson, and player acquisitions have turned the New York Knicks into a contender.

Carmelo Anthony is playing out of his mind right now. He’s second in the league right now to Kobe Bryant (aka Benjamin Button) in scoring. Carmelo is averaging 28.9 points per game with shooting averages of 47% from the field and a career best 43% from 3-point range. Although he has missed a few games with injury this season, he is having one of the best seasons of his career. During the offseason, coach Mike Woodson was quoted saying, “Anthony’s going to have to raise his game” and that he would have “to push him to be in better shape.” Anthony seems to have taken his coach’s words to heart as he has propelled the Knicks to one of their best starts in decades.

Mike Woodson has brought in a culture that holds even his star players accountable, and their response can be seen throughout their play. Under D’Antoni, the Knicks forgot what it meant to play defense, Woodson seems to have been able to remind them what it means. He has brought in a focus on defense, and when you have the former Defensive Player of the Year, you’re going to see some positive results. By demanding accountability from his players, Woodson and the Knicks have experienced a major reduction in turnovers. Under Woodson, the Knicks are averaging a league-low 10.8 turnovers per game. This same team averaged 16 turnovers per game last year. Woodson’s system demands ball control, something far different from the run and gun offense that existed during the D’Antoni era. This doesn’t mean that the offense has slowed down though. Woodson has put out a powerful offense that has been living and dying with the 3-ball. The Knicks put up a league high 28.9 3-pointers per game and are making them at a 39% rate. This three point shooting has allowed the Knicks to average a very respectable 102.1 points per game. By getting his veterans to buy in and operate within the system, Woodson has the Knicks looking like contenders.

Woodson’s veteran team added multiple players during this offseason that have been crucial to the Knicks thriving. During the offseason, the Knicks refused to match Jeremy Lin’s offer sheet, allowing the point guard to go to Houston. They brought in veteran point guards Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton who have been able to successfully run the offense that Woodson wants. Raymond Felton seems to have been revitalized in New York, and Jason Kidd seems to have slapped Father Time in the face. Kidd’s poised play and veteran leadership have created almost a second coach on the court. While he may not be lighting up the stat sheet, every player on the Knicks commends Kidd for consistently making play after play and efficiently running the offense on the floor. The Knicks have found themselves two point guards more than capable of producing and running the Knicks efficient offense.

Much must be said about the emergence of J.R. Smith. The self-proclaimed partier has “given up on drinking and the clubs” to focus more on basketball this year. It looks as though it is really helping as Smith is one of the best bench players in the league and averaging a career high 16.6 points per game.

The Knicks look like one of the best teams in the league even though they are just introducing one of their top players back to the lineup. While some individuals believe that the return of Amare Stoudemire to the Knicks lineup is a disruption to their rhythm, coach Mike Woodson has more than proved himself able to adapt to his roster. With Stoudemire coming off the bench, Woodson would be able to keep Anthony at the power forward position that he has been thriving at all year. The Knicks could rotate Anthony or Chandler out when inserting Stoudemire, giving them additional rest on the bench. Also, having Stoudemire available gives the Knicks the ability to match the size of any front-court in the league. Mike Woodson has turned this team around and his success will get the players to buy into however he decides to handle the situation. Even though we are only a little over a third into the season, the Knicks are facing some big expectations in the Big Apple.

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Tye Masters
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How the West was Won

I’m not a Laker fan nor do I claim to be on the Laker bandwagon. The only time I ever rooted for the Lakers was when my boy Shaquille O’Neal was Kazaaming the streets of LA with his sidekick Kobe Bryant.

Who will ever forget the alley oop that Kobe sent to Shaq  in Game 7 of the 2000 West Finals against the Blazers?! One of the best moments of my young life. Too bad Shaq and Kobe let their egos get in the way because they would still be winning rings (okay maybe not but they would have won plenty more).

Gives you chills doesn’t it?

Although I’m in a serious relationship with football, my first love was basketball but we all know white men can’t jump and my basketball dreams went out the window real quick.

I love the offseason, sometimes more than I love the actual games. Player movement and free agency just gets me so excited; I love the idea of wooing players to join the team or trading pieces to get to the championship. When the rumors of Dwight Howard being traded surfaced I thought he would be a Net. The idea of Howard being traded to the Lakers was near impossible. As the trade rumors began to progress, I figured there was no way other GMs would let this move happen. If it did then Bynum & Gasol MUST be included for competitive balances sake. The Lakers would have to part with their entire squad. Wrong.

KD5 and the rest of the Thunder team have a very bright future but when news broke that the Lakers acquired Nash & Howard, I sent in my ticket to the sports book for the NBA Finals. (Call Kendrick Perkins the Howard stopper if you please. He has only slowed Howard down and has lost about 60 pounds since).

Nothing against any team in the West but a combo of Kobe, Howard, Nash, Gasol plus some solid bench players (Jamison is still a solid player at his old age) sounds unreal, on paper of course.

Nash won’t need to carry the team like he did in Phoenix and should be a very effective player with the Lakers. Nash may not be the best defensive player (to say the least) but he  does has Howard protecting his back. The former two-time MVP will be running the pick ‘n roll for days.

Howard and Gasol give the Lakers one of the biggest front courts in the NBA; Gasol will no longer need to take any pressure off Kobe and can be the effective role player he really is (Gasol may be the worst star in the NBA. He has so much talent but doesn’t know how or when to put it all together).

When Kobe Bryant finally passed Shaquille O’Neal in the ring count, numerous sources reported Kobe was taunting Shaq; he was eying that moment for years. Now that he has surpassed the Diesel, the Black Mamba has his sight on something bigger: passing the almighty Michael Jordan. But can he do it?

Kobe and crew have a dream squad for Laker faithful. The team has one of the best players of all-time, the most dominant big man in the game, one of the smoothest point guards in the past decade, Ron ron defensive skills and a few other pieces to bring a championship home to LA.

We all know that championships aren’t won on paper nor in the offseason but if the Lakers can mesh together, they look poised for another Championship run and a probable meeting with the defending Champion Miami Heat.

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