By John Hareas, NBA.com
Posted May 6 2009 1:44PM
Andrew Bynum needs better focus. Less watching the game and more reacting. Those are the observations of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a Lakers special assistant and Bynum's mentor. The six-time NBA champion spoke to NBA.com about Bynum's growing pains in the Playoffs, his thoughts on the Lakers' surprising Game 1 loss to the Rockets, his latest fashion statement and why he's starting to tweet from Laker games.
NBA.com: After Monday's game, Phil Jackson said he couldn't imagine the team playing any worse. Was that performance the Lakers' worst of the season?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I think it was their most ineffective. No one played well. No one was able to do anything to overcome what the Rockets were doing. It was a group meltdown by the Lakers.
NBA.com: How much of Houston's defense was the reason for L.A.'s poor performance?
KAJ: I think you have to give Houston all of the credit at this point. Kobe had a sore throat and he might not have been at 100 percent. Houston managed to negatively impact everybody's game. Nobody on the Lakers played well. Nobody shot 50 percent. Just look at the stat -- 2-for-18 from the 3-point line. Pau Gasol didn't get the shots he usually gets. No one shot well. The whole team was unable to overcome Houston's defensive effort.
NBA.com: Kobe missed practice on Sunday because of the sore throat. He said he felt fine in Game 1. Did he look fine to you?
KAJ: He looked physically OK. He didn't look like he was suffering. He looked like he could run the court, he wasn't weak or anything. He was not able to have the usual impact on the game.
I heard what [Rockets] coach [Rick] Adelman had to say after the game. The Rockets are trying to keep Kobe away from the hoop and trying to make him hit his jump shots. They did a great job of doing that on Monday. Kobe didn't get many drives to the basket. When Kobe's attacking the basket, he gets fouled and that sets up his jump shot. The Rockets kept in a mode where he had to settle for jump shots.
NBA.com: The center matchup -- Yao vs. Andrew Bynum -- is a crucial one in this series. Bynum seems to have a penchant to get in early foul trouble. We've seen it in the Utah series and early against the Rockets. What kind of growing process is Bynum experiencing in the playoffs?
KAJ: This is the first time Andrew has played this late into the year. He didn't play last year and the years that he played prior in the Playoffs, he had much less time. This is all new territory for him.
NBA.com: What is the main area of his game that you are working on, especially from a mental standpoint?
KAJ: Playoff basketball requires more focus. I'm trying to get Andrew to zero in specifically on what he needs to do on each play. Sometimes he gets caught up watching the game. He's out on the court, in the middle of it and he's watching it and not reacting. At every moment you have to react to what happens where the ball moves and where your man moves and what your teammates are doing. It's a constant re-evaluation of what you're doing at that particular moment. He has to do a better job of that.
I thought that as the Utah series went on, Andrew started to play better.
NBA.com: What is the biggest area of improvement that you've noticed in Yao's overall game since he entered the league?
KAJ: I haven't watched Yao play that much. I haven't seen him in person. I've seen him play in person something like five times including Monday night. So I don't consider myself fully up to speed on what's happening with him.
He was a factor in the game, especially in the last quarter, making free throws, guarding the basket. He did a very good job. He's a constant threat on the offensive end and he causes the defense to sag so whoever is playing him has to be aware of what he can create with his offensive skills. It causes his whole team to react and makes it possible for his teammates to do certain things.
He shoots a hook shot although he doesn't shoot it like I shoot it. But it goes in.
NBA.com: When you played, the Rockets had the Lakers' number, winning in the first round in the 1981 Playoffs and also in the Western Conference finals in '86, capped by the famous Ralph Sampson corkscrew shot.
KAJ: That was a tough loss, especially at a time when we thought we were moving on. It was a wake-up call losing that series. There was more work that needed to be done.
We responded the next season -- 1986-87 -- which, from a physical standpoint, was my easiest season in the league. I know that sounds odd. I turned 40 during the '87 Playoffs. I worked really hard in the weight room during the summer of '86 because I was getting pushed around a lot. So I went to Pete Newell and asked him what was happening and why I was having a tough time. It had to do with not being able to deal with players pushing me off certain spots on the floor. So I had to work on my strength. It was a matter of strength and conditioning.
NBA.com: Were you surprised that Kobe finished a distant second to LeBron in NBA MVP voting?
KAJ: I'm not surprised. From year to year, people want to go with the new flavor. LeBron certainly earned it. His team has the best record in the league and he was the main factor in their success.
NBA.com: I read you're going to start to tweet from Lakers games. True?
KAJ: Yes. I just opened a Twitter account and want to be able to drop some knowledge, share some insights with my fans and NBA fans in general who are watching the game. I'll be offering my observations not only about the Lakers and basketball but with what's going on in the world.
I hope to hear from fans tonight. I'll be there courtside. The Twitter account is http://twitter.com/KAJ33
NBA.com: The skyhook is non existent in today's game. Why?
KAJ: I think it has to do with the fact that not very many people are taught that shot. When I was taught how to shoot that shot it was going out of style and that was in the mid-'50s. That was 50 years ago.
I learned it when I was in grade school when I was in fifth grade. We had college kids help my grade school coach. His name was Farrell Hopkins. Some of the guys who would help in practice would show him the George Mikan drill. By the time I was in eighth grade, I could shoot the hook shot with either hand.
NBA.com: What made you decide to trademark the term skyhook?
KAJ: I actually did that a couple of years ago. It's so much a part of my identity as a basketball player that I needed to get some claim on it. If you don't, someone else will do it. I did that a couple of years ago and got around to marketing some t-shirts and they're doing really well. I'm heartened by the response.
I had one made up a year ago and people would ask me, 'That's neat, where can I get one?' I didn't really have any gear to make my own but now all the pieces are in place and we're marketing them. You can purchase them on my web site, Kareemabduljabbar.com.
I wore it to the game the other night. I'll continue to wear it throughout the playoffs.
NBA.com: April 30th marked the 39th anniversary of the Bucks lone NBA title. No team in major professional sports won a title in only its third season. While you and Oscar Robertson understandably received a lot of attention, who were some of the unsung heroes on that team?
KAJ: We were a strong playoff team. We really dominated that year, losing only twice. We had an effective starting team and good guys coming off the bench. One of the guys just died last week, McCoy McLemore.
The most unsung of the heroes on that team was Greg Smith. He was our starting power forward and he was only 6-foot-5, but he could compete with guys at that position who were 6-foot-9 and he was very fast. He could really run the floor. He was a really unique athlete like that. He was a great defensive player and rebounder and late in the game, he would always get a layup or two based on his ability to glide up the floor. He did a great job for us.
The year after we won the World Championship, the Bucks traded him because they wanted the prototypical 6-foot-9 power forward at that position. I think it was a bad move for his career and for our team. We never won again.
We also had Bob Boozer coming off the bench who was a great, clutch shooter. Those two guys weren't stars and people didn't pay much attention to them but they were so effective for our team.
With Oscar and I providing the one-two punch, it provided the balance we needed to win consistently.
NBA.com: Who do you keep in touch with from that team?
KAJ: I talk to Greg Smith every now and then in Los Angeles. On every rare occasion, I see Oscar and Bob Dandridge. I see Jon McGlocklin who is still broadcasting with the Bucks.
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