Batum blog June 16

Defending against Kobe, I was told “good luck”

Nicolas talks about what he has done since the end of the season as well as the playoffs. As a defensive specialist, he also takes a look at the job Mike Pietrus has done on LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

Since the playoffs finished, I've trained a bit, but passively it has to be said. During the three weeks following the end of the season, I didn't touch a ball. I really needed it, because since last August it's been non-stop basketball, 95 games... After a while it becomes hard, physically as well as mentally, and you have to take a little break. Especially because the elimination in the playoffs was frustrating. We had had a good season, we had succeeded in winning home court advantage, something which isn't easy in the West. And it's too bad that we messed up the first round, we could've won. It's true that the first game put us in a hole, losing by 30 points or so. We did learn during these playoffs, but it's good to take a break. Because we left exhausted and frustrated, and what's more we're watching the other games on TV.

So, during this time, I did some quick weight lifting, some running here and there, but it was really light. In fact in Portland, the coaches and the physical trainer told me to not touch a ball, to rest three weeks, even all of May. They told me: "run two or three times a week, lift weights two or three times, but very light, and be sure to rest, see your family, your friends, have fun." After three weeks, I started to miss basketball. Even after two weeks, in fact, but I couldn't play immediately because I was on vacation.

The first time (or so) that I touched a ball again, it was last weekend for a tournament, le Quartier Ouest. The first day, Saturday, I couldn't feel my lungs anymore, I had the impression that I was missing one! But it was funny, I met with some friends that I had played with in Caen, before I left for Le Mans. It was just to play together again, because it had been a long time. In the beginning it was for fun, but once it started, I wanted to win, so we were in until the final and we won. On top of that, in the final, we played against some of my friends, so it was fun.

Tonight as well I'm going to touch a ball again, but in a wheelchair! I'm going to be the sponsor of the club of Pont-L’Evêque, where I played when I was really little. Today, they're doing a tournament for kids, so I'm going to come, and after the tournament, they're doing a handicap game with the professional team from Le Havre against the first team of Pont-L’Evêque. And I'm going to play with them, in a wheelchair too. It's going to be hard!

I didn't touch a ball until this week, but I still followed the playoffs. They were balanced this year, with lots of good teams. It really was a good playoffs. The ones that beat us, the Rockets, were good afterwards. Too bad that Yao Ming got injured, they could've shocked some people. Aaron Brook surprised me, he had a good playoffs.

But the series that I preferred was the Lakers-Denver, it was great. I thought it was better than Orlando-Cleveland. Carmelo, except when he got sick, played at an impressive level. I'm really happy for him, because he has been criticized and I think that he's one of the most underestimated players in the league. He's not talked about enough. He's talked about, but I don't think that he's recognized like he should be. He defended, attacked, he was a true team player, whereas before some thought that he was only an attacking player, a scorer. He must've had 4 or 5 assists each game in the playoffs. He's a true player now, complete, accomplished in all aspects of the game. He's a true leader. I was happy because he's a player that I really appreciate.

I was also impressed by the series that LeBron had in the conference final. It was crazy. In fact, I was impressed by the people that elevated their level. Nowitzki also had a great playoffs. And then there's Kobe, who was Kobe. He's in his objective since the beginning, he really deserves to win. As far as disappointments, first off there's our team, but also Boston, even if it was difficult with Garnett out. I didn't really have the time to follow their series against Chicago, I watched it vaguely...

At the heart of it, in the final, I saw Orlando winning 4-2. In particular, I thought that with their bigs, the Lakers couldn't defend Rashard Lewis. But what made the difference, in my opinion, was the Lakers' experience, just look at the last game (game 4). So now I see the Lakers winning 4-2. Orlando should win the next game and they'll lose game 6 in Los Angeles. I saw the rerun this morning and it's true that Fisher scored two very big shots at the end, and in overtime, Kobe was Kobe. I don't think that he especially forced it, he just wants to win. He carries his team and he wants to do well. He isn't forcing it like he did before. He wants to win this title. He takes lots of shots, but he had 8 assists. And he can't be too far from a triple-double. It's not forcing it to hog the ball, it's to win. That wasn't Kobe before, who forced it to score his 80 points. It's not easy to explain but for me it's different. He knows that he's the one on his team that can score so he takes shots. Even if Mike Pietrus is playing great defense, he scores 30 points anyway.

For that matter since the start of the playoffs, Mike is good, eh! And not only on defense, he also scores. He scored 15 points that night. Aside from the 2nd game, he's scored 14, 18, and 15. That's pretty good for his first finals. And then defensively he's been great. LeBron maybe put up lots of points, but he still limited him. He forced LeBron to play for himself, made him lower his head and the others stopped moving. So sure LeBron scored 40 points, but the others didn't score more than 10.

That's what you have to do against LeBron. For us, in Portland, that's what we do against him. "Let LeBron score 40, it's not important as long as the others don't score 20." If he wants to, he'll score 40 anyway. You have to try to limit him and make him shoot a poor percentage. But you especially have to cut off the others and give it your all against him. Anyway, that's what you have to do against these guys. Sure, you have to try to stop them, but the objective is above all to limit them more than to stop them, because they're so good... After LeBron, you can try to let him shoot, because his shot is less fluid and precise than Kobe's, even if he's starting to become better and better.

It's a bit different defending against them. For LeBron, I was told "stay back and avoid letting him in the paint. It's better to let him shoot." For Kobe, it's "good luck." Wade, for me, is different, he was maybe the toughest to defend. Well, no, in fact, you can't say that he's the toughest to defend out of the three because they're the three best players in the world. It's crazy how skilled Kobe is. Wade is too quick, his lateral quickness is crazy, in a thousandth of a second he puts his right foot on the other side compared with his left foot, you don't know how he did it. And LeBron, he hits you with his shoulder and you end up in the stands. To summarize: Wade too quick, Kobe too skilled, LeBron too physical.

In any case, watching the finals really makes me want to be there. I'm in the NBA, maybe I'll have the opportunity to play in the finals one day, it's even more motivating. Before I just sorta watched them, but now that I'm here and I see the team that we have, given that we'll maybe have the chance to play in the finals in the short or medium term, that really motivates me. But I'll still have to work. I'm leaving this weekend to workout in Dallas, where Alexis Ajinça and Mike Gelabale are working at the moment.

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