Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tulsa 66ers 98 at Los Angeles D-Fenders 110 (NBA D-League) - February 8, 2012

The last game I watched in the U.S. was in Frisco, TX, where the NBA D-League season opener took place last Thanksgiving weekend. Just over two months later, I'm back stateside, this time in Los Angeles, and the D-League schedule maker was kind enough to slot an LA D-Fenders game the day after I arrived. The D-Fenders are the Lakers development squad (although in truth all the players are owned by the league and can be called up by any franchise) and play their home games at the Toyota Sports Center. It's located about a mile from LAX, so I decided to avoid renting a car and stayed close to the airport, walking to the venue through the streets of El Segundo.

Toyota Sports Center

Located right next to the Mariposa metro station on the Green Line, the Toyota Sports Center is where both the Lakers and Kings practice. Hockey is actually the more dominant motif with 3 rinks and plenty of Kings banners on display.

Ironic that all 3 are Canadian

The gym that the D-Fenders play in is on the other side of the three rinks, with the ticket booth really just a table at the main entrance of the building. Tickets are $20 for unreserved seating and $99 for courtside seats, which include very detailed game notes. Naturally, I chose the cheaper option and arrived early enough to sit in the 2nd row (from where you can pilfer the game notes). This is not a typical basketball venue with stadium seating, rather there are just six rows of folding chairs on one side of the court. Attendance averages just 200 or so, as Angelenos don't seem interested in anything that isn't major league.

There is little to note inside the venue, other than some banners commemorating the franchises many titles and Hall of Famers, both in Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

It also appears that a room above the D-Fenders bench holds the NBA Championship Trophies, but they were not clearly displayed, as you can see below:

Food options were very limited on the day I visited, with just hot dogs, churros, and pretzels as well as soda and beer available from the concession outside the gym entrance. You cannot bring anything inside the gym, but there were a few standing tables next to the concession where you could scarf down your meal. If you do want to eat at the TSC, try the Center Cafe on the upper level of the rinks, which had wraps and other more interesting items and a seating area that was mostly taken by parents waiting for hockey practice to finish. The best bet here is to eat at one of the many restaurants a block over on Sepulveda. Try the Petite Cafe for a hearty pre-game dinner; dozens of pictures of Lakers past and present dot the walls.

There are cheerleaders called the "Laker Girls" who performed during most timeouts, but I'm not sure if they are members of the same group that cheers in the Staples Center. There were a few lame promotions as well but most of the 250 in attendance didn't seem to care. Perhaps the best thing about this venue is that they don't blare music while the game is going on, so you can hear the players and coaches quite clearly.

Overall, this is a surprisingly lackluster venue given the Lakers are such a famous franchise. The only benefit is that you are essentially courtside, even in the second row, for just $20. It was the closest I've ever sat at a pro basketball game and I really enjoyed the feeling. The game was not particularly good, but it was intense at times and it really helped to be sitting so close.

The Game

Tulsa is Oklahoma City's affiliate, so I would be seeing a minor-league replay of the playoff game I witnessed back in 2010. In that battle, the Lakers stormed out to an early lead and cruised to a 24-point victory. They say that history repeats itself and that was the case here as the D-Fenders used a hot start, led by Gerald Green (below), who is most famous for winning the 2007 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Green drained his first three 3-pointers as LA raced to a 23-9 lead.

From that point on, it was a lot of run and gun with teams trading baskets for the most part. There were some great plays for both offenses and a few decent defensive maneuvers (Orien Greene with a steal below) as well, but the 66ers could not mount a run to make it close. The half ended 60-42 for LA.

The 3rd quarter started brightly for Tulsa, who used an 18-5 run to get within 7, but D-Fender bench boss Eric Musselman (ex-Warrior and King head coach) called a timeout and was able to get his squad to refocus. LA outscored the 66ers by 9 over the rest of the frame and the fourth quarter was rendered mostly meaningless.

Mardy Collins called for the charge here

I say mostly meaningless because even though the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt, there was still something worth playing for: free food for fans! The D-Fenders have a promotion whereby if the team wins and keeps the opponents under 100 points, each fan gets a coupon for two free tacos at Jack in the Box. Tulsa finished the 3rd quarter with 73 points, so it was going to be a close call, particularly as it was garbage time, when players are more concerned about upping their stats than filling fans' faces with fast food.

Otis George and Marcus Lewis admire a shot from beyond the arc

The 66ers fell off the pace midway through the stanza, and with 3:30 to go, they had only 86 points. It looked like the tacos were a sure thing, but Tulsa kept trying and the D-Fenders failed to live up to their moniker. The score edged closer and closer until a monster slam by Jerome Dyson with 17 seconds left gave Tulsa 98 points. I feared a turnover would cause my tacos to vanish, but LA just ran out the clock, sending the fans off to Jack in the Box with coupon in hand. The final was 110-98, but the game was pretty much over in the first six minutes.

Green led all scorers with 31 points, while Otis George grabbed 13 boards for the winners, who are now 21-10 and a solid second in the Western Conference. Tulsa fell to 15-15, good enough for 5th place.


The D-Fenders just signed one-time Raptor Rafer "Skip 2 My Lou" Alston although he didn't get in the game. He did chat a couple of fans in front of me briefly, laughing about his advanced age (35) but I'm guessing he is working himself into playing shape. He might be a late-season pickup for an NBA playoff team needing a deeper bench.

I sat next to the parents of 66er Brian Barkdoll and they provided some interesting insight into the life of a minor league basketball player. Unfortunately, Barkdoll was also given a "DNP" on the night, so we didn't have a chance to cheer him on.

One of the officials was Cheryl Flores, that is her below watching the play. The D League has several female referees in the system, although I am not sure if they are working their way up to the NBA.

Next Up

I'm going to try to take LA transit from El Segundo to downtown and back again to watch an NCAA college game tonight between the UCLA Bruins and Stanford Cardinal. Check back tomorrow to see if I made it.



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