Record: 46-12 (44-14 Pythagorean), top seed in the West
Record last 10 games: 8-2
Offensive Rating: 108.6 (11th in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 99.2 (best in the NBA)
Jim Jackson a Laker: The Lakers bought out Slava Medvedenkoâ€™s contract and have signed Jim Jackson, who was cut loose by the Suns recently. I like the pickup â€” I have no idea how much he can bring to the backcourt, but it canâ€™t be less than the injured Slava.
Jackson is the kind of tall guard (6-6) that Phil likes and he can do a few things that the Lakers need â€” or at least he could before this season started. He can shoot the three, where he has hit 41.4% last season and has hit over 40% four of the last five seasons. Heâ€™s been a fairly effective overall shooter during that time, hitting 53.1% (eFG%) last season. He was an average defender (which would be a boost for the Laker backcourt most nights).
But this season heâ€™s been off, shooting just 34.9%, averaging the same number of turnovers and assists per 40 minutes. This is Jacksonâ€™s 14th season, has time passed him by? Was it just not fitting in with Phoenix and its style? Weâ€™ve got some games to find out.
Can lightening strike twice: One top seed down, one to go. With some good teams ahead on the schedule (not just tonight) weâ€™ll need to see more games like that.
The key was defensive effort and good play from the supporting cast (as always, Kobe was an MVP-like amazing). Kwame Brown had his best game as a Laker, with a Ben Wallace like game of 12 boards and good defense, which is why he led the team with a +20 for the night. Odom stepped up and had 10 assists with no turnovers. Cook, Walton, D. George were all good.
The Lakers and the playoffs: Heading into tonight, the Lakers are 2.5 games up on both Utah and Sacramento. The Lakers are one game back of New Orleans and the seventh seed.
Kobe vs. Bruce Bowen: Should be the most entertaining match up of the night. In case you missed it, the 6-7 Bowen (listed, but that might be generous) did an amazing job on the 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki the other night, forcing him into 6 of 15 shooting in the Spurs win. Nobody stops Kobe, but Bruce can crimp his efficiency, so other guys are going to have to stop up.
About the Spurs: Itâ€™s all about the defense. Like Detroit, the Spurs are pretty traditional on defense â€” Bowen will be asked to slow Kobe and the goal will be to make sure no other Laker gets hot.
The Spurs also have the best defense in the league by a huge 3 points per 100 possessions and they are the only team holding opponents to less than a point per possession. At the heart of that is that teams only shoot 44.6% (eFG%) against them, the lowest percentage in the league. Bowen can lock down good outside shooters and they donâ€™t give up a lot of second chances â€” Duncan has pulled down 19.1% of the available rebounds when heâ€™s been on the floor this season. The Spurs donâ€™t create a lot of turnovers, but they donâ€™t need to.
To a degree it always was about the D with the Spurs, but that has been more important this season with Tim Duncan slowed with plantar fascia (what slowed Kobe at points last season). Duncan hasnâ€™t been the same on offense. Not only is his shooting percentage of 48.1% the lowest in his career (and itâ€™s just 42% the last 10 games), but 58% of his attempts are jump shots (again a career high), meaning heâ€™s not getting close to the basked like he has in the past.
Tony Parker has taken up most of the slack on offense, shooting 55.4% (eFG%) on the season and leading the team with 6.7 assists and 22.2 points per 40 minutes. Manu Ginobili has been slowed by injuries as well but continues to be efficient, with a true shooting percentage of 58.2% (he gets to the line a lot). They still have probably the best bench in the league: Nazr Mohammed, Robert Horry, Michael Finley, Rasho Nesterovic and Brent Barry.
Keyâ€™s to a Laker win: If the Lakers are going to knock off another top seed they are going to need a few things: A good defensive effort from Smush and Sasha on Parker, who has to be slowed; big games inside from Mihm, Kwame and others as you have to balance the strength and depth inside of the Spurs; someone else besides Kobe to step up on offense â€” specifically Lamar Odom, who can create match up problems for the Spurs.
Obviously, it can happen. But itâ€™s going to need another big night on both ends.