To be honest, the Lakers aren’t giving fans a lot to be thankful for. They are in the midst of a second straight awful season. So far this campaign, they are suffering (roughly) four losses for every win and dealing with a myriad of injuries to players who would not only help their win total but provide entertainment during games. If what has transpired to this point holds for the rest of the season, this group of players will have provided what would clearly be the worst year in the history of the franchise.

In saying all that, though, I remain thankful. This sounds strange, I know.

The Lakers have, for better or worse (but mostly better), been an institution in my life for most of the years I have been alive. Some of my earliest memories are of watching games with my dad, listening to Chick Hearn describe the action of some of history’s greatest players. Over time I have seen way more winning than losing, seen every down period turn into a period of sustained excellence.

In a strange way, then, a truly low period like the one the team is going through now makes me thankful because it serves a reminder of all those good times. All of these losses and the commentary and shot taking by pundits they inspire only reinforce the fact that it all only matters because it is so damn rare. And maybe that is grasping at straws and maybe fans of other teams will scoff at the fact that losing could make you feel like anything but, well, a loser. The idea of Lakers’ exceptionalism will get thrown back as some sort of fake superiority complex that makes us the worst.

And maybe there’s some truth in all that.

But, on a day where we are supposed to give thanks, I really am thankful today. Not for the losses or the poor decision making by the players, front office, and coaches that lead to them. All of that sucks. But all of it does serve as a reminder to me that things weren’t always so bad and that, if history holds, they won’t always be either.

So, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from FB&G.

Tonight, the Lakers continue their current home-stand with one of their toughest matchups of this young season. The Memphis Grizzlies come in playing some of the best (probably the best) basketball in the NBA and the Lakers are coming off consecutive losses to the Mavericks the Nuggets.

The Nuggets loss was on Sunday, and with four full days off, the conversation during the week was largely about Kobe Bryant, his legs and the minutes he’s been playing. Byron Scott, when asked about reducing his minutes, responded with an alternative route to keeping Bryant fresh (via Mark Medina):

“Still kind of keep [his minutes] where it is,” Scott said. “It prompts me to give him more days off, if anything, so I can keep it in the 30-40 range.”

Scott would later say that if this new plan doesn’t work — and he’s willing to give this about two or three games — he’ll cut down Bryant’s minutes.

Scott seems to be missing the larger issue here, and it was one of the issues down the stretch of the Lakers loss to the Grizzlies in the first time these two teams met. This is a Lakers basketball team that is far from clicking on either end of the floor, but especially on the offensive end. Bryant is shooting shots at a ridiculous nightly clip, and a lot of his chucking is a direct result of a combination of a lack of talent and a lack of continuity on offense.

While practice during the off days isn’t going to help with the former, it’s only practice during the off days that will work for the latter of these issues. While there is some credit that should be issued to Scott for looking for new ways to help both Bryant and the team, him focusing just on Kobe’s individual struggles is akin to taking a glance at Picasso’s Guernica and focusing just on the horse and bull, completely ignoring the struggle painted across the full canvas. Kobe’s legs is one of the central themes for this season, but it’s only one of the problems causing the Lakers inability to add tally marks in the win column.

On the other end of the floor, the Grizzlies boast the best record in basketball (12-2) and have not lost a game against the tough Western Conference (8-0 heading into tonight’s game against the Lakers). They’ve maintained the same suffocating defense from seasons past, but are now one of the NBA’s best offensive teams. Memphis has a Top 10 offensive rating while still playing at one of the league’s slowest paces.

One of the reasons for the Grizzlies improved offensive efficiency: Courtney Lee. The Grizzlies, with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, have forced teams to clog the paint over the years to try to counter their luxury of having to bruising bigs who can play with their back to the basket. This has opened up wide open shots from the perimeter, that the team wasn’t able to fully take advantage of in seasons past. This season, Lee is shooting at an absurd .611 clip from 3-point range. While it’s risible to assume that he’ll continue to shoot the ball this well for the remainder of the season, he’s essentially closed the Grizzlies offensive circle: Great point guard who can get into the paint at will, a deft passing center who can play anywhere from 17-feet to the basket, a physical power forward who is nearly unguardable when defended by one man — and now they have a shooter to spread the floor.

Further more, they’re getting scoring from more guys, the bench is deeper. During the last calendar week (Sunday-Saturday), the Grizzlies saw 10 guys reach double figures in scoring, seven of them did it multiple times. They’ve become multi-faceted and less reliant on guys they know they can rely on.

For tonight, the Lakers are going to struggle defending the Randolph/Gasol duo, this is a given. They don’t have the size or the ability to guard two of the better big men in the NBA. What they can do is keep Conley out of the paint, close down passing lanes and run Lee off the three-point line. Although they’ve proven that they have multiple guys who can beat you, it’s going to have to be one of those other guys tonight if the Lakers want to win this game. If Conley, Gasol and/or Randolph gets it going, it’s going to be awfully tough to keep pace offensively against a Top 5 defense.

On the other end, Kobe is going to have to trust his guys. Carlos Boozer (shudders) had a fantastic game against the Grizzlies in the first meeting. Jeremy Lin was effective, but not great, and Wesley Johnson had what was probably his best game of the season. No one is going to beat this team playing Kobe ball. He’s been his most efficient this year when playing off the ball, letting someone else run the offense and getting his shots off curls and down screens. It’s going to take much more than just getting Bryant touches in sets where he’s not creating, but that’s definitely the starting point.

At the end of the day, it’s about getting stops for these Lakers, which they weren’t able to do in their losses to Dallas and Denver. This Grizzlies team is very good and have few flaws that can clearly be exploited. The Lakers are coming off four days rest, so there’s hope that the fresh legs can help them compete in the fashion that they did in the first meeting. A win is unlikely, but so were the other three.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

With the recent news of Xavier Henry joining Steve Nash and Julius Randle on the shelf for the season, the Lakers have begun to explore their options on adding a player who could help. Well, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo, the Lakers have settled on a familiar name:

Lakers fans are familiar with Earl, of course. He damn near became a household name in his lone season with the Lakers, getting thrust into the lineup after injuries ravaged the team’s front court (sounds familiar!). Playing stretch PF under Mike D’Antoni, Clark easily had the best season of his career. His ability to stretch the floor offensively and multi-skilled game was a nice fit for that system and that coach, who paired him next to Dwight or Pau and let him work on the perimeter as a floor spacer and then use his athleticism to do work closer to the basket as a slasher and finisher in the open court. Earl flourished in that role and turned that production into a free agent deal with the Cavs for four-times what the Lakers likely would have wanted him to sign for.

In Cleveland, however, Clark never found the same magic he had under D’Antoni. While his three point shooting numbers held steady, the rest of his game did not translate as well to Mike Brown’s more methodical approach. Clark did not even finish his first season with the Cavs and was traded to the 76ers and promptly waived. Since then, Clark continued his vagabond career suiting up for the Knicks and getting claimed off waivers by the Rockets, but never finding a home. Now he’s back in LA.

While I do not want to be too down on Clark, I wouldn’t expect the same type of success that had fans making “Earl-sanity!” comments on this site two years ago. Clark is, theoretically, being brought in to play small forward where he can provide depth now that Henry is out. Clark has the perimeter skills and, as noted by Woj, he has been producing some gaudy scoring numbers in the D-League. But unless his game has moved forward in the two years he’s been gone (which is possible), I expect Clark to still have some issues playing against like sized and athletic players who are used to guarding on the perimeter.

In saying all that, though, I am happy to see Earl get another shot in the league. Hopefully he does well and can find a landing spot in the years to come that find a way to maximize his game. He certainly has talent and a unique skill set for a player his size.

The Lakers really can’t escape the injury bug this year. Steve Nash is out for the year with his recurring back/nerve root issues. Prized rookie Julius Randle is also out for the year with a broken leg. Ryan Kelly is on the shelf once again with his hamstring issues. And now, Xavier Henry may also be out for the year after hurting himself in a 3-on-3 drill in Monday’s practice. From the Lakers’ twitter account:

Byron Scott is hopeful it is not that serious, but at this point that likely is just hope. If Henry’s MRI confirms the tear he will not play again this season and the Lakers have suffered another blow to their already depleted roster.

Henry was re-signed this past summer with the hope that he could contribute to a wing rotation that, save for Jodie Meeks’ departure, was retained from last year. However, summer knee surgery and issues with his back had kept Henry out of training camp. And while he saw game action earlier than expected after going to Germany for regenokine treatment, he’d not yet found a consistent role on the team as he tried to work his back into playing form.

In the past couple of weeks Henry had played for the D-Fenders (the Lakers’ D-League affiliate) in the hopes of finding his rhythm and getting back into game shape, but now his season looks to be over.

As for what this means for the Lakers, they almost surely will now need to sign another wing if for no other reason than they need another body. Without Henry and with Kelly still injured, the Lakers’ only healthy perimeter players who can play either SG or SF are Kobe, Nick Young, Wes Johnson, and Jordan Clarkson. Lin could also be slotted into the SG spot, but considering the Lakers are also shallow at PG, they need another body regardless. The Lakers recently held a workout that involved former Nugget Quincy Miller, but no moves were immediately made. They may need to revisit those options now.

But those are the team logistics. Really, today’s news isn’t so much about that but instead about Henry. I truly feel bad for him as he’s worked extremely hard to try and get his career back on the track he was on when drafted with the #12 overall pick in 2010. That process really began in earnest last season when he had a nice season with the Lakers under Mike D’Antoni. The Lakers brought him back with the hopes that he’d continue his growth this year. Now, however, he’s likely out for the year, on an expiring minimum contract, and looking at one of the more grueling recoveries you can face in sports.

Hopefully he’s back as good as new next season. I will be rooting for him, that’s for sure.

After winning two consecutive games, the Lakers were rudely brought back to reality by the Mavericks on Friday night. As we noted in our game preview, the Lakers could keep it close by playing well offensively, but at some point the odds were that tired legs and a juggernaut of a Mavericks’ offense would prevail. And, well, that’s exactly what happened. After the game Kobe spoke of not having his legs under him all night which was evident not only in his final shot numbers, but in the shots he decided to take. On one occasion, Kobe actually fired up a 35 footer with 6 seconds left on the shot clock, seemingly just because he did not want to work to try to get a better look against a defense geared up to slow him down. This shot attempt prompted one of the better photoshops I’ve ever seen (and a candidate for tweet of the year) from friend of the site J.D. Hastings:

Hey, if you can’t have a few laughs in a season like this one, I’ve no clue how you ever plan to make it through. I mean, we’re only 13 games in and the Lakers are showing to be one of the worst teams in the league. There will be some wins to pick you up, but I can’t recommend whiskey every time something goes wrong.

In any event, the Lakers are back in action tonight against a Nuggets team that is suddenly playing much better. After starting the season winning one of their first seven games, Denver has sunk four of their last five opponents. This includes a 20 point manhandling of the Pelicans on Friday night — the same Pelicans that the Lakers lost to last week. So, while a couple of weeks ago tonight’s game looked like it could be winnable, it is now much more in question. Even with the Lakers returning home after spending the last week on the road.

Key to this contest, though, is for the Lakers to find ways to get Kobe better looks — especially on cuts and off screen actions. It’s obvious to say, but the Lakers are a much more competitive team when Kobe is an efficient scorer rather than the under 40% version he’s been in almost all the games this year. And the way to boost his efficiency is get him more looks in single coverage and with a step on his man rather than asking him to create from the top of the key or the win against defenses who can show him a second and third defender quickly and easily. Run a few more curl actions and tighter pin downs (with better screens set and better angles) and let him catch the ball on the move rather than at a stop or when moving away from the hoop.

Also key is for Jeremy Lin to continue his aggressiveness from Friday. In that game Lin started out looking for his own shot, making quick and smart decisions in how he would attack. He got into the paint, created space on his mid-range jumper, and was very good in catch and shoot chances. He’ll need to do more of that tonight against Ty Lawson, making his smaller counterpart defend and, in the process, expend some energy to make him less effective offensively.

As for the other side of the ball, the Nuggets aren’t especially strong in any one area but are good enough in several places to give the Lakers real issues. They have firepower on the perimeter in Lawson, Aron Aflalo, Randy Foye, and Wilson Chandler who can all shoot the long ball effectively. Add to them Kenneth Faried’s work on the glass and activity both in transition and when diving hard out of the P&R and the Lakers will have to defend the entire floor. Doing so effectively has been a problem all year, especially since they have had so many issues defending the three point line while also taking away shots inside. The perimeter defenders will need to dig inside and then recover to the three point line well or they will get burned.

Overall, the Lakers should have a nice boost from playing at home. Getting Wayne Ellington back should also help their perimeter offense and allow them to play Kobe more at the 3 while reducing his minutes. This latter point is important as it should allow him to be fresher for longer and, hopefully, lead to better lift on his jumper with better results. But, unless this team starts to get some stops, none of it will matter. We’ll see if tonight is the night the Lakers can play a bit above their heads and allow their offense to put them over the top.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.