Records: Lakers 11-43, Last in the West; Cavs 37-14, 1st in the East
Offensive ratings: Lakers 97.2, 29th in NBA; Cavs 106.5, 4th in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 109.9, Last in the NBA; Cavs 100.8, 8th in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert (hoping for this, though!)
Cavs: Kyrie, Shumpert, LeBron, Love, Mozgov

 

Cavs Blogs: Check out Cavs the Blog and Fear the Sword for all your Cavs news and analysis.

Keys to game: I’m skipping the formalities and getting right to it today. The Lakers have been playing well and the Cavs, after disposing of David Blatt and hiring Tyron Lue are 7-3 in their last 10 games. The firing came as a surprise, but when reading the postmortems from those close to the situation, there was clearly a disconnect between Blatt and the players, one that the FO thought needed addressing right away. That change has been made and now there aren’t many (any?) excuses left for this team to not accomplish their goal (unless you count not being as good as the Warriors as an excuse).

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Byron Scott has said that he D’Angelo Russell will return to the starting lineup at some point. All signs indicate this will likely occur after the All-Star Break when the Lakers enter their final leg of the season with only 27 games left on the schedule. This last burst should give the coach and front office ample time to see how Russell plays upon his return and offer data points to include in a development plan for the summer.

Russell’s return, however, isn’t the only change I would like to see. As the team heads into the stretch run, looking at the way to maximize all their young players by finding new lineup combinations via further rotation changes should be a priority. I mean, swapping Russell is fine, but also finding ways to play Black more, get Nance back into the rotation (good health in his knee permitting), and getting Anthony Brown back into the fold is also important.

With that, here is my proposal for the Lakers new starting 5 coming out of the All-Star Break:

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Records: Lakers 11-42, Last in the West; Pacers 27-24, 7th in the East
Offensive ratings: Lakers 97.4, 29th in NBA; Pacers 102.4, 19th in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.3, Last in the NBA; Pacers 99.6, 4th in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert
Pacers: George Hill, Monta, Paul George, Myles Turner, Ian Mahinmi

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are playing well. After winning two straight games, they played the Spurs very well and were in the game until the very end. Yes, those Spurs were missing Manu and Timmy, but that same team spanked the Mavs just a couple days before the Lakers played them tight. To stay in that game, on the road, was a marked improvement from what we could expect from previous weeks.

The good play is mostly centered around Kobe who has found ways to get hot in all three of the team’s recent games, keeping the Lakers close by bombing shots from behind the arc and showing just enough craft to get off mid-range jumpers that have been a staple of his arsenal his entire career. The young players have joined Kobe in playing well too, mostly finding their respective strides offensively while leveraging their youth and athleticism to do just enough defensively to not allow games to get out of hand.

All in all, this may be the best stretch of basketball the Lakers have played all year. No, that might not be saying much, but it still needs to be said. I don’t think the Lakers are going to be running off a string of wins anytime soon, but if you are someone looking for progress the last few games are probably exactly what you have been wanting to see.

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Records: Lakers 11-41, Last in the West; Spurs 42-8, 2nd in the West
Offensive ratings: Lakers 97.2, 29th in NBA; Spurs 109.2, 3rd in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.2, Last in the NBA; Spurs 94.7, 1st in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Kobe, Randle, Hibbert
Spurs: Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won two games in a row, beating the Wolves in LA and the Pelicans in New Orleans to start this road trip. The wins were highlighted by strong play from Kobe Bryant, but he did not win these games on his own — not even the Wolves game where he posted a 38-5-5 line that was as throwback as they come.

No, the team has been getting good efforts from multiple players, especially offensively. Julius Randle has been a double-double machine while shooting a strong percentage, D’Angelo Russell has been doing good work in the post while also knocking down outside shots, Jordan Clarkson has been consistent and a top scoring option, and Lou Williams has provided efficient scoring by getting to the line and creating shots in isolation.

More to the point, this is the team many optimists saw as the best version of the Lakers for this season. Factors — up and down play from the youngsters, Kobe’s on and off health and struggles with finding his legs, not being able to compensate for really bad defense — has limited how often we have seen this type of play. But the team has gotten it these last two games and it’s led to wins and some entertaining basketball.

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The Lakers start a 4 game road trip tonight in New Orleans, a trip which will double as a Kobe retirement tour at every stop. So, expect there to be some tribute videos and electric environments full of fans for both teams eager to say their goodbyes to #24. With this, of course, comes some distractions, even if only small ones.

This isn’t the biggest deal, but it it’s not nothing either. Kobe will be showered with good vibes and the rest of the team will have to try and channel that energy into positive performances. Because no matter how the game goes, Kobe will get his cheers. I’ve no clue how his teammates fell about this — I’d imagine it’s a bit cool to see — but hearing “oohs and ahs” when one guy touches the ball or takes a shot regardless of result has to at least be strange.

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Coming into this season, his 3rd with the Lakers, Nick Young was put on notice. He ended his second season with the team firmly in Byron Scott’s doghouse and the only way out of it was to no longer play like Nick Young. Scott said he wanted Young to play better defense, to exercise more discretion offensively, and to be a more serious player. If he did these things, he might see more playing time. If he didn’t, well, the wood has a way of speaking to a player, as this coach is fond of saying.

So, what did young do? He tried to improve in the areas the coach asked him to. At the start of the year was often seen trying on defense and taking less crazy shots in isolation. While he wasn’t a playmaker, he was more willing to move the ball and resembled more of the player he was under Mike D’Antoni; more of the player who the Lakers thought they were keeping on when he resigned after his first with team.

It turns out, though, that really didn’t last. Since the first 10-15 games of the season, Young’s shooting has fallen off, his effort on defense has been spotty, and he has fallen into the trap of looking for his own shot — especially when working in isolation. A tiger doesn’t change its stripes, after all.

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Records: Lakers 9-41, Last in the West; Timberwolves 14-35, 14th in the West
Offensive ratings: Lakers 96.6, 29th in NBA; Timberwolves 101.7, 23rd in the NBA
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.2, Last in the NBA; Timberwolves 105.3, 22nd in the NBA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Clarkson, Williams, Anthony Brown, Randle, Hibbert
Timberwolves: Rubio, Wiggins, Tayshaun Prince, Gorgui Dieng, Karl Anthony-Towns

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have tied their franchise worst 10 game losing streak. They have also lost 14 of their last 15 games and 16 of their last 20. I could go on, but you get the point. The losing has been bad and, to make matters worse, the L’s have been by large margins.

All of the losing has stirred up the ongoing themes of player development and what is the best way to handle the rotations with all these losses piling up. After all, if the team is losing, why not change things up and start to focus more on the young players? Byron Scott says D’Angelo Russell will be inserted back into the starting group eventually, hinting it will happen after the all-star break. That hasn’t appeased many people, though. In fact, Scott has come under fire recently, from former UCLA star and current Clipper announcer Don McLean, for how he has handled Russell’s development this season.

Excellent summaries of this very public spat can be found here, by Dan Devine and here by Kurt Helin so I will spare you the specifics. They also offer some very level headed thoughts on the matter so I would read what they have to say. Really, go do it, we’ll be here when you get back. My thoughts on this are pretty simple, but can best be summed up with a few short bullet points:

  • I don’t know what Scott says or does behind the scenes in supporting and developing players, so it’s important to acknowledge that we can only know so much.
  • What we do know is heavily influenced by Scott’s public comments.
  • Scott’s public comments, about Russell specifically, have skewed negative multiple times over the course of the season.
  • Some of Russell’s recent comments imply he’s struggling, not only in his play but in his understanding of how to improve and with the lines of communication between himself and the coach.
  • The foundation of any good player/coach relationship is communication. The foundation of any good coaching is communication.
  • If Byron Scott is struggling to communicate with Russell or any of the other players — young or veteran — he must find a way to break through that. Communication is a two-way street, but if your tactics are not working with a player, finding ways to make it work are more on the coach. This is especially true with young players who need more guidance and direction, especially in their first couple of seasons while they are learning the league.

Again, I do not know what is happening behind the scenes, but there needs to be improvement here. And, yes, I’m putting the onus on the coach to make those inroads. Especially when what I am seeing, publicly, implies he has room to improve his approach.

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Happy Monday, everybody. Here are your best Lakers-centric reads from the week:

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