Archives For February 2010

[picappgallerysingle id=”7540805″]

In what was a tight, back and forth game for most of the evening, the Lakers just didn’t have enough in reserve to pull out a game that was there for the taking.  All credit should go to Dallas who played well on both ends of the floor, rebounded the ball with effort and aggression, and made shots when it mattered all night.  And even though the Lakers had a chance to win this game, this contest always seemed to be just out of arms reach as a final late game push fell short.

The game started out close as neither team could find any separation from the opposition.  Each team was effective with its initial game plan as Dirk was stroking silky jumpshots while Kidd controlled the flow of the Mavs offense and the Lakers exerted themselves inside with early buckets from Bynum and post ups and finishes from Artest.  The back and forth would continue all game, but a few trends would start to develop as the second unit made their appearances and those trends would be major stories throughout the rest of the game.

The first trend that developed was the Lakers inability to control their defensive glass.  The Lakers bigs were just having trouble securing defensive rebounds and the extra possessions that Dallas earned would be costly to the Lakers defense as they mostly took advantage of the additional shots by either scoring or earning trips to the foul line.  It’s not like the Lakers rebounding was bad for the entire evening, but long bounces off jumpers went Dallas’ way and even when the Lakers were in position to grab the ball it just didn’t happen.  I mean, Kobe would collide with Pau and the ball would go out of bounds.  Bynum or Gasol would have the ball on their fingertips only to have a hustling Maverick tip it away late or body them up and watch them fumble it away.  And so it went for most of the night for the Lakers on the glass.  And without gaining much traction on their defensive glass, it was tough for the Lakers to get any flow on offense as too many possessions ended with the Lakers not changing ends in their normal fashion as they were constantly battling for rebounds with Haywood, Najera, and Marion.

The second trend that developed was a red hot Jason Terry.  In the game preview I wrote:

As for Terry, he is a notorious Laker killer and he needs to be marked from the moment he’s sitting at the scorers table to come into the game.  He can light it up from anywhere and relishes his chances to stick it to the Lakers.  I think we’ll see a lot of Shannon on JET tonight and that means we need the disciplined defense that WOW showed against Portland and San Antonio to make sure that Terry doesn’t get that good feeling going.

Let’s just say that Terry found plenty of space to operate in this game and in his typical form, he lit us up.  30 points on only 20 shots for JET as he filled it up from the three point line when his man gambled on steals in the post or lost him in transition.  And then when the Lakers tried to pressure him too far from the basket, he’d use his quickness to get by them and get into the lane to finish there.  Just an explosive night on offense for a player that has been doing it for years against the Lakers.  If it wasn’t so predictable, it’d be amazing.  Sadly it was just typical Terry when he sees the Purple and Gold of the Lakers.

But it wasn’t just Terry that hurt the Lakers.  It was Dirk too.  The big German was his normal fantastic self scoring on mid range jumpers, post ups, and earning trips to the foul line with his array of up and unders, feints, and ball fakes.  The man just put on an great shooting display scoring 31 points on only 19 shots and did it without even taking a three pointer.  Add to that his 9 rebounds and only one turnover and he was just the complete player that fans once overrated, but now don’t seem to appreciate enough.  Dirk also provided the key play of the game when he found himself with the ball isolated on Kobe at the FT line with only a few ticks left on the shot clock.  Dirk went into his trademark crouch to back down Kobe, turned, ball faked, and then dipped around Kobe and sank the jumper while simultaneously taking a swipe to the head.  He then extended his arms in a celebratory show of exuberance that showed how much he really wanted this game.

And tonight, that really was the difference.  The Mavs really wanted this game and they played with heart and effort the entire night.  And while the Lakers also played hard, it was mostly in stretches when they sensed a push would get them to the finish line and a victory.  And that type of effort just wasn’t enough tonight.  The Lakers didn’t play with the assertiveness or the smarts that would earn them a victory and Dallas did.  Simple and plain.

A couple of other notes on  this one:

*The Lakers offense is really not in synch right now.  Tonight’s game produced an offensive rating of 101.7 which is essentially what it looks like to watch the Timberwolves play every night.  Some of that can be attributed to the poor shooting night of Kobe and the low FT attempts, but something is not right and it’s been this way all season.  Obviously tonight was well below even the Lakers standards this year, but it’s nights like this that contribute to the Lakers hovering around 10th in offensive efficiency all season.  If I had to do a mini break down of our offensive woes, I think our issues continue to be our lack of outside shooting (5-17 from 3 against the Mavs is below average for us, but all too typical) and our inability to stick to running our offense.  The ball is still sticking too much when Bynum has the ball, Kobe is still running too much P&R, and our other guards continue to over dribble and use shoddy decision making in both the open and half court.  And, even on nights when the shots are falling, most of our makes come from the talent level of our players rather than the team work that should flow from our sets.  Is our offensive execution a fatal flaw?  I don’t know, but it’s troubling to me that after 58 games the Lakers still haven’t righted the ship on offense are still not performing at a level that is representative of the talent on this roster.

*Turnovers have really hurt this team in the last two games.  Last night the Lakers were able to overcome the 17 gaffes.  Not tonight with a repeat in the number of giveaways.  Call it fatigue if you want.  Call it an adjustment to having Kobe back in the lineup.  I call it lazy post entries, rushing passes to players that aren’t open, and silly offensive fouls where players are so anxious to shoot that they forget they can’t break the rules to get their shot off.

*I was impressed with the interior presence of Haywood.  On defense, he was strong in holding his position and contested shots at every opportunity.  He also rebounded well on both ends with 9 rebounds total (4 offensive) and gives this team much more than Dampier can.  That said, Dallas’ lack of interior depth will come back to hurt them if Dampier can’t return to health and show effectiveness for the stretch run.  Running Najera out there to defend a Gasol (or a Duncan or a Nene or a Boozer) is going to be a problem for this team in a meaningful playoff game.

*I continue to be impressed with Jason Kidd.  Has he lost a step?  Yes.  He is 36.  But his control over a game – especially offensively – and ability to run a team remains the highest level.  Combine that with his not-so-fluky-anymore improvement shooting the long ball and you’ve got a player that hurts you when you double off him and can dissect you with passes for his mates when you pay too much attention to Dirk or Terry.

[picappgallerysingle id=”7540815″]
Records: Lakers 43-14 (1st in the West), Mavericks 36-21 (4th in the West, 7.0 games behind the Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.8 (9th in NBA), Mavericks 108.0 (12th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.9 (2nd in NBA), Mavericks 105.9 (12th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood

A note on game winners:  Last night’s jumper was the fifth time that Kobe outright beat a team with the last made shot of a game.  That glorious three point bomb joined his three pointer against the Kings, his running sideways three against the Heat, his turn around jumer against the Bucks, and his pull up jumper against the Celtics.  Environment doesn’t matter to our guy as Kobe’s made two of these shots at home and three on the road.  If you want to be less strict about game winners, you can add the jumper Kobe sank to untie the game against the Mavs back in January as another clutch shot that directly led to victory.  As I mentioned last night, this is a special player that his having a special year.  We should all enjoy this because players and performances like this don’t come around too often.

And for those debating clutchness, one measure of how a player performs in the clutch is what he does in the 4th quarter and overtime.  So far this season, Kobe has hit 18 shots that have given the Lakers the lead in this situation – tops in the league.  So when the game is close and the Lakers are within a basket to take the lead, Kobe is hitting more shots than any other player.  Pretty impressive.  Second on that list?  He plays for the team that we face tonight.  Dirk has hit 14 such shots this season.  He’s pretty good too.  (*Stats from ESPN Stats and the Elias Sports Bureau)

The Mavericks Coming in:  As we’ve covered a lot around here, the Mavericks have added some new faces.  The Butler and Haywood upgrade has been discussed and dissected everywhere so I won’t get into that now.  Not because it’s not important, but because in recent days the Mavs have made a couple of other really important moves.  That’s right – Von Wafer and Dwayne Jones are now Mavericks!  All joking aside, Von and Dwayne are recent signees of the Mavs and look to get limited minutes as insurance to some other injuries and depth issues the Mavs are dealing with.  One under reported consequence of the trade with the Wiz (and an earlier trade that the Mavs made with the Nets to reacquire Eddie Najera) is that the Mavs are really lacking in big man depth.  In losing both Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden in trades and with Eric Dampier in street clothes with a busted hand, the Mavs need some bodies to play behind their improved core.  Wafer and Jones are getting their shots with 10 day contracts to see if they can be those players to help out.  If not, the Mavs will look for some other player to step in.

Looking at the Mavs since their acquisition of Butler/Haywood, you see that the Mavs are back to their winning ways.  They’ve won four in a row by an average of almost nine points per game.  I say back to their winning ways because one of the reasons that Mark Cuban was even willing to make this trade (and take on the additional salary and coressponding luxury tax hit) was because the Mavs were in a real funk.  Over the 15 games before the trade, the Mavs had lost 8 games and a .500 hundred team is not going to inspire any confidence for a deep post season run, which is what the Mavs (and their owner) want and expect.  So, at this point the Mavs are back on track and are hoping to make a push into one of the top 3 seeds in the west and an avoidance of the Lakers in the 2nd round.  Can they pull it off?  A win tonight would certainly help with the confidence they’ll need to move in that direction.

Mavericks Blogs:  Rob Mahoney at the Two Man Game is one of the best bloggers around and deserves our attention.  He’s always getting fans meaninful information about the Mavs.  (He’s also one of the main contributors at ProBasketballTalk).  Go read his stuff.

Keys to game:  Tonight’s game will be a bit of a feeling out process for both teams while also serving as a measuring stick for both sqauds.  While all the pieces are familiar, this is a new Mavs team and one that the Lakers are going to need to take stock of.  And from the Mavs persepective, the Lakers are the team that they need to measure themselves against and with their new players, they need to see if the moves made have helped them match up better.

On offense, the Lakers need to attack the Mavs in the same way that they started to attack the Grizzlies in the first quarter last night.  That means early post touches for Pau against Dirk and for Drew against Haywood.  The Lakers advantage inside may not be what it typically is against a team with good big men like the Mavs, that does not mean you go away from your strength.  Enter the ball into the post and then run the offense.  Last night against the Grizz, the Lakers got away from running their offense and the game turned sloppy as they turned the ball over repeatedly.  Tonight, the Lakers need to stick to the plan and execute the Triangle.  I know I say this every game, but the Lakers offesne – when run correctly – allows for a variety of options that almost always lead to an advantage when strung out.  Pass the ball, move, and then pass the ball more.  It will lead to open shots.

One aspect I’d like to see the Lakers offense improve on tonight is being aware of the Mav’s guards digging down to help on the post.  Recently, both with and without Kobe, the Lakers bigs have been going into their moves to score the ball and have not been aware of late help coming to swipe at the ball for steals and contest shots to get blocks.  Last night Rudy Gay was very effective at helping late to contest shots and Conley/Mayo were also effective in digging down to disrupt the post moves of our bigs.  Tonight, the Lakers face Jason Kidd who is one of the best guards in the league at this technique and they’ll need to be ready.  Our bigs need to be patient, but when they do decide to make their move it must be agressive while still done with awareness because the Mavs guards (and Kidd specifically) will be helping off our guards (who have struggled to make jumpers) to bother our bigs and are betting that our shooters not named Kobe will not make them pay.

On defense, it all starts with slowing down Dirk.  I could go on and on about a player that I think is one of the (still) underrated players in the game, but I won’t.  Just understand that the guy has 20,000+ career points for a reason.  He can hurt you in a variety of ways and marking him in both the half court and on the secondary break is key to slowing the Mavs attack.  Luckily, I think the Lakers happen to have two of the best defenders to throw at Nowitzki in Pau and Lamar.  Both of our guys must find him early in the clock and push him out of his comfort zone.  Make him drive right to shoot his jumper and always be aware that when the ball goes on the ground he loves to spin back over his right shoulder to shoot his pretty fade-away jumper.

The other key players on offense to watch are Kidd and Terry.  Despite his age, Kidd is still playing high level offensive basketball.  Watching him operate with the ball in his hands never gets old as he consistently makes the right decision and rarely forces the action.  The key to slowing Kidd down, I think, is to pressure the ball and make him work to get to the spots on the floor that he likes.  When left to move unimpeded, Kidd can execute you to death by picking out players with pin point passes that set them up for easy shots.  He’s truly like the quarterback that leads his WR’s perfectly so they can run after the catch.  So, in keeping the football analogy alive, I think you need to pressure the passer and make him beat you when feeling the heat.  As for Terry, he is a notorious Laker killer and he needs to be marked from the moment he’s sitting at the scorers table to come into the game.  He can light it up from anywhere and relishes his chances to stick it to the Lakers.  I think we’ll see a lot of Shannon on JET tonight and that means we need the disciplined defense that WOW showed against Portland and San Antonio to make sure that Terry doesn’t get that good feeling going.  One other player that needs to be mentioned is rookie speedster Roddy Beaubois.  The Mavs are high on him and for good reason.  He’s a blur in the open court and can create shots with the best of them.  Almost half of his shots come within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, so you know he’s looking to push pace and get easy buckets.  Talent evaluators have compared him to Tony Parker and Leandro Barbosa which is high praise and means that we better be paying attention to him – especially since he is the type of guard that traditionally gives the Lakers problems.

Where you can watch:  6:00pm start here in the West, Nationally on ESPN and Locally on KCAL 9, also on ESPN Radio 710am.

It sure didn’t take long for Kobe to get back into the swing of things. A 32-7-6 line and a game winning three-pointer in his return after missing five games was impressively seamless – however, the fact that Bryant had to bail the Lakers out for the fifth time this season was much less impressive.

The Lakers came out playing great basketball, outscoring the Grizzlies 27-16 after the first quarter, forcing six turnovers (five steals) and only committing two themselves. Things turned from there, with the Grizzlies shortening that 11-point lead to just five by the half, and taking a five point lead of their own going into the fourth quarter. It definitely wasn’t pretty, but the Lakers will definitely take the win, keeping pace with Cleveland for the league’s best record (the Lakers are still a half-game back in overall standings going into tonight’s game with Cleveland standing pat).

For those of you who missed the game, Basket Blog has a running diary of the game against Memphis, highlighting all of the big plays and adding some analysis by quarter.

Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register had a good column on how Kobe looked in his return to game action.

“Kobe Bryant produced another ending to remember.

“Just don’t forget how Bryant looked at the beginning.

“That was magical in a more unique way. The word “pure” describes Bryant’s stroke on that winning shot Tuesday night, but it better speaks to the look in his eyes as he took the basketball court for the first time after 18 days away.

“On first glance the eyes were might’ve looked dead to the casual observer because they were so steady. Bryant walked without emotion from the bench to the scorer’s table to get rosin for his hands. Teammate Josh Powell whispered that last motivation in Bryant’s right ear right before tip-off – which only happens every single game – yet Bryant listened as intently as if it were the final play call.

“And soon enough, Bryant was talking with the same focus. He set a season-high in communication in team defense, triggering extraordinary results…”

Also, in SLAMonline’s recap of all games last night, they touched on the Lakers-Grizzlies game and, of course, Kobe’s return:

While this was going on, in La-la-land, Kobe was doing what he does coming back from an ankle injury to drop 32 of his team’s 99 points, shooting 13-19 from the floor, adding seven rebounds and six assists and hitting the game-tying three-pointer then following that up with the game-winning dagger three to give the Lakers the 99-98 victory. It’s funny how tough of a time the Lakers have with Memphis. Had OJ Mayo made a pair of free throws, the Lakers would have trailed by two possessions, but you know, give Kobe room to win and more often than not, he’s going to.

How many game winners is this? Five? I think something like that. So crazy. It’s even crazier when, I swoon over the 32/7/6 line from Kobe and then go over and check LeBron’s numbers for the season. They are different players with different skill sets and different roles on their teams and I’m still picking Kobe to win the game for me, but I cannot wrap my head around just how good LeBron is on a nightly basis.

Mark Medina of the Lakers Blog at the Los Angeles Times has a great read on Kobe’s late game heroics versus the team’s collective late game collapses and Basket Blog has video of post game interviews with Phil Jackson and Pau Gasol. Andy Kamenetzky at Land O’ Lakers has a good recap of the game that chronicles the Lakers’ sloppy play after the first quarter.

“After a first frame holding the Grizzlies to a sweet 16, L.A. allowed their hosts to double it over the second quarter, then score 33 during the third. That strong defense consistently witnessed during Bryant’s ankle-sprained absence? Non-existent. Ditto the smart play. The Lakers turned the ball over nine times in the third quarter alone and 17 times in all. Well above the team’s average, and even more eye-popping, this mess’ foundation was a first quarter with just two gaffes.

“Everything went haywire, and it wasn’t a matter of Memphis forcing Laker mistakes. They just played badly.

“You can’t defend turnovers,” said PJ after the game. “They’re eventually going to catch up with you. We created our own mismatch in that (third) quarter.”

“That lack of concentration also surfaced at the stripe. After missing just twice in nineteen tries over 36 minutes, veterans became unglued. Pau, 82 percent on the season, missed three attempts during the final frame and Derek Fisher, an 85 percent guy, missed a pair. Inexcusable, and for El Spaniard, additional proof playing in Memphis messes with him. No shot was too big a “bunny” for Gasol this evening.”

3 Shades of Blue has a recap of last night’s game from the Memphis perspective, where Chip Crain declares Kobe as the NBA’s best player.

“Tuesday night began like so many Grizzlies games have begun recently with the team down double digits early. Just like the Miami and New Jersey games the Grizzlies staged a furious comeback to retake the lead late in the game. However this time the Grizzlies couldn’t finish the game nor even make it to overtime. This time the people of Memphis were treated to a show by Kobe Bryant who showed why he is the best player in the game today when the game is on the line.

“Sorry LeBron fans but it is true. Give me LeBron for 3 1/2 quarters but when the game is on the line I want Kobe taking the big shots. Kobe scored the Lakers final nine points to bring the defending World Champions back from certain defeat topped off with a three point shot with the clock running out that was contested and two feet at least behind the three point line.”

Lastly, I leave you with the video of Kobe’s game winner. Phil drew up a gorgeous play, the double-screen, giving Kobe room to hide and shoot behind Gasol using Lamar and Fisher as decoys. The ball reversal created misdirection, making the Grizzlies players make decisions – exactly what you want to do if you have one shot.

-Phillip

[picappgallerysingle id=”7001948″]

What a finish.

In what is becoming standard operating procedure in games that the Lakers play against the Grizzlies, this game was a close one that came down to the final possession.  Only, in this game, there wasn’t a Kobe pass and an Artest miss.  It was all Kobe and he left no doubt down the stretch who would be the guy to take the last shot.  And while this game shouldn’t have needed another Kobe game winner (you can add the Grizz to the Heat, Bucks, Kings, and Celtics on the list of teams that have suffered defeat by Kobe daggers in the final seconds), I think we can all agree that we’ll take it.  In a game that saw all the ups and downs and shifts of momentum that drive fans crazy, it was Kobe that saved the day with another batch of heroics.  It never gets old watching #24 in the closing seconds of a tight game.

The game started out with the Lakers taking control early by doing what they’d done in the five games with Kobe out of the line up.  The ball movement was crisp and directed toward the post.  Both Gasol and Bynum got touches early and took advantage of Memphis inside.  Kobe was working the offense to get good looks on mid-range post ups and penetration.  On defense the Lakers were chasing the Grizzlies around screens and contesting shots both on the perimeter and on the inside.  The pressure led to turnovers and fast break chances that the Lakers converted for easy buckets.  Everything was looking good and if the Lakers would have continued with this style of play, they likely would have maintained their eleven point first quarter lead and comfortably won the game.  Alas, it was not meant to be.

In the middle quarters, Memphis once again showed why they are a tough match up for the Lakers.  The combination of versatile scoring from Randolph, savvy and hustle from Marc Gasol, and relentless dribble attack from Rudy Gay got the Grizz back into the game. The Lakers added to Memphis’ success by an utter reluctance to go with what worked early.  Too many rushed offensive sets dictated by dribble penetration.  Too many one-pass-then-jumper offensive possessions.  Too many times the Lakers played a style that was just sloppy, leading to turnovers (17 for the game) and Memphis was more than capable of capitalizing.  By the time the the 3rd quarter ended, the Grizz had a 5 point lead and had seen leads as big as eleven.  But just as the game had turned for Memphis in the middle portions, the Lakers would control the bookends.

In the fourth quarter the Lakers would find their stride again, especially on defense.  Almost every Memphis shot would be challenged and every rebound would be contested.  And slowly but surely the Lakers would come back and make this a game in the final minutes.  Yes there was faltering down the stretch.  The Lakers would miss five consecutive free throws and would see a deficit in the final two minutes would match that miss total.  But in the end, the Lakers would make enough plays to pull out the win.  Scratch that, Kobe would make enough plays to pull out the win.  When the Lakers needed him most, Kobe was there with a long two pointer to cut the lead to 3.  When the deficit was still three, Kobe would nail an even longer three pointer to tie the game as the players at the end of the Grizzlies bench buried their heads in their hands.  Then, after a missed Pau jumper and even more important FT’s missed by OJ Mayo, Kobe would have one last chance to make his mark on this game and make his return even more memorable.  Of a beautifully diagrammed inbounds play (give Phil credit here, he drew up a fantastic play that sprung Kobe clean), Kobe would circle to the extended right wing and find himself wide open.  Much like the game winner against Sacramento earlier this season, Kobe knew exactly what to do with the game on the line with no defender in sight.  In a moment that has become all too familiar for Lakers’ opponents, Kobe rose up and nailed another game winning shot.  The fact that there were  4 seconds left really didn’t matter as OJ Mayo’s shot – a very good look, though over an outstretched Pau Gasol arm – went long.  Ballgame.

As I mentioned earlier, watching Kobe close out games never gets old.  Yes, the team could have played better.  Once again our back up guards played forgettable (their stats were okay, but they had no impact and played outside the system for most of the night).  And we had another game where our three point shooting was sub par.  Plus Artest shot poorly again (though he did play inspired defense in the 4th quarter).  I haven’t even mentioned Bynum being unable to stay out of foul trouble for the entire second half and how he ended the night with only four rebounds.  Nor have I mentioned that Odom played without the energy that he’d displayed over the past two weeks when Kobe was out.   You know why none of that got mentioned?  Kobe made me forget until now.  He’s been doing that a lot this season.  Cherish these moments, Lakers fans.  We’re blessed with watching one of the all-timers make his mark on this league.

[picappgallerysingle id=”7779434″]

Records: Lakers 42-14 (1st in the West), Grizzlies 28-27 (tied for 10th in the West, 13.5 games behind Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.0 (9th in NBA), Grizzlies 108.4 (12th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.9 (2nd in NBA), Grizzlies 109.6 (24th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol

The Lakers Coming in:  As we’ve heard ad nauseum over the past few days (what can we say, slow news days for the Lakers since the Boston game), Kobe will be back tonight in his first action since the Nuggets debacle on February 5th.  That was a quite some time ago.  Over the time that he’s been out the Lakers have performed quite well, but it will be nice to have Bean back.  It will also be interesting to see how Phil handles the rotations with both Sasha and Luke missing tonight’s game.  Will we see heavy minutes for Kobe?  When will Lamar enter the game and for who?  Bynum has been limited in recent practices due to his sore hip, so maybe we’ll see LO for Drew earlier than normal.  A lot of questions tonight as we have our starting group together for the first time in over two weeks.  The good news is, everyone should be well rested coming into the game.  The Lakers haven’t played since Thursday and had an off day on Sunday.  So, with tonight the first game of a back to back, the Lakers should look fresh.  Hopefully, we can say the same thing tomorrow.

The Grizzlies Coming in: Memphis has been struggling to get wins as of late.  With only three wins in their last eleven games, the Grizz have not been playing their best ball and are playing a bit more up and down than they need to in making a push for the post season.  And though some of their losses can be excused due to the quality of their opponents (Cavs, Hawks, Spurs), they’ve also lost to the Hornets (missing CP3), the Rockets (tied with them in the standings), Minnesota, and Miami (missing Wade).  Throw in an uneven performance against the Nets on Sunday (where they were down by 18 at one point), and you’ve got a team that not a lot is going right for at the moment. 

That’s because, besides the losses, there has been even more bad news for the Grizz in recent days.  Trade deadline acquistion Ronnie Brewer is out indefinitely with a torn hamstring.  Brewer, brought in to add some much needed depth on the wing from the Jazz, was supposed to be a key piece to help the Grizz make their push to the playoffs.  Brewer, despite his up and down season so far, is a good player that plays above average defense and could have been a real asset at the end of games if paired with Mayo (with OJ sliding over to the point) and Gay on the wing by allowing those guys to guard the lesser offensive threats on the opposimg team.  Now, with a question mark regarding the timeline of his return, the Grizz will have to go without their newest player and that can be a bit deflating for a team that was on the rise and looking to really make a move in the final 6 weeks of the season.

Grizzlies Blogs3 Shades of Blue is where you need to go for all your Grizzlies info. They’re smart and have skinny on the up and coming Grizz.

Keys to game:  In the last meeting against the Grizz, the Lakers bigs looked tired (coming off a back to back) and not up to the challenge of facing the talented front court of the Grizz.  Randolph went for 22 points and 17 boards while Marc Gasol chipped in a double-double of his own with 11 points to go with 13 rebounds.  You add in an efficient night from Rudy Gay (25 points on 19 shots, with 3 steals) and you had a recipe for a long night. 

Tonight, rest should not be an issue.  The Lakers haven’t played since last Thursday and should be fresh as could be coming in BBQ country.  On offense, they need to get back to basics while incorporating Kobe back into the mix.  In the last outing, Kobe had a very efficient night, but dominated the ball to the tune of 41 combined FG and FT attempts while Pau/Drew/Ron/LO combined for only 42.  Tonight, in Kobe’s first game back the shot allocation needs to be more balanced and our bigs need to be more involved.  That means going into the post early and running our offense.  Let Gasol go to work on whoever is guarding him and create offense for himself and others.  If Marc is on Pau, that means Andrew will have a mismatch against Zach and he should also get ample opportunities to score the ball.  One aspect of post offense I’d like to see more of tonight is the repost by our bigs.  In the last game, Memphis did a good job of pushing our guys off the block and making their catches difficult.  If they try that same technique tonight, our bigs must fight hard to gain position to make the post catches easier.  But if they have to make a catch further out than they’d like, they need to pass back out and repost.  And then our guards must reward them by passing the ball back in to let our guys go to work.  Even against a team like Memphis, our big men have an advantage, it just may take more patience to exploit. 

However, just becasue we should focus on going inside, that does not mean Kobe should not be involved.  Quite the opposite, actually.  I want Kobe to be aggressive, but he should be much more selective with his shots and try to work the offense more to get his looks.  Make Mayo work by running him off of screens and occupy him on defense by working hard off the ball to get open looks.   Kobe has a size advantage over OJ and he should exploit that by doing his work off the ball and making catches going to basket and getting good shots that way.  Also, operate at the elboys in isolation rather than on the extended wing.  As for the rest of our guards, tonight is a game where they must show more discipline than they’ve shown for most of this season and work the ball around in order to get everyone good looks.  The push for the post season is now upon us and there is no better time to start practicing good habbits than tonight.

On defense, the Lakers need to focus on the taking away the strengths that hurt them the last time they faced this team.  That means focusing on Zach in the post and on Mayo/Rudy on the wings and taking away what they want to do.  If you thought Lamar loved to go to his left hand, Zach’s obsession may be even more pronounced.  Zach loves to make his catches in the 15-18 foot range on the right wing where he turns and faces to either shoot his feathery jumper or drive by you because of the respect you must show him on his J.  Pau needs to force Zach to put the ball on the ground to the baseline where Zach will have to either make the skip pass to the opposite corner or try to finish in the paint over our bigs.  Zach is capable of doing this, but he’s less effective in these scenarios than when he’s dictating to you with moves in his comfort zone.  And when Zach is in a straight post up postion, you must stop him from turning over his right shoulder.  Make him drop step and finish by bringing the ball over an extened right hand that’s contesting (which is quite a difficult finish for a lefty).  Stopping Rudy and Mayo is a different task as they are both players that can do it all from the wing.  Both are capable jump shooters and both can attack the basket and are effective both ways.  That said, Mayo is much more comfortable shooting the J from range (8 of his 15 shot attempts per game are from 16 feet and out) and Rudy is much more effective driving the ball (9 of his 16 shot attempts are within 15 feet).  Understand these tendencies and you go a long way in making these guys less effective.

Also understand that Memphis is in the top half of the league in pace (they’re 12th in compared to the Lakers 8th).  Most of this is due to Conley wanting to push the ball while he is in the game.  Conley is much more comfortable in the open court than in their set offense and he will try to attack our guard in the open court when our defense is not set.  Funnel him to his right hand and push him to the sideline at every opportunity.  Along with recognizing what Conley wants to do also understand that unlike against recent opponents, the Grizzlies do not run to the three point line (save Mayo).  Gay, Gasol, and Randolph all want to play close to the basket and will run to the rim.  So in transition D, the Lakers must build a wall in the paint and then recover back to the perimeter when the Grizz pull the ball back out to run their sets.  It should be a good game tonight and the Lakers should have revenge on their mind.

Where you can watch:  5:00pm start here on the West on KCAL locally and on NBA TV nationally.  Also ESPN Radio 710am.

Again, there isn’t too much Lakers’ news this Tuesday morning outside of Kobe definitely playing tonight in Memphis against the Grizzlies. Land O’ Lakers has some post practice interviews from Ron Artest, Phil Jackson and Pau Gasol where they collectively talk about Kobe’s return to the line up, the game against Memphis, and Marc Gasol. And here is the video of Kobe’s post game interview where he discusses the strength of his ankle and integrating himself back into the line up.

Kobe has been on featured in SLAM and GQ recently, and has now received the DIME Magazine cover which chronicles Kobe’s greatness (note: the story starts on Page 62):

“And now, the rest of the man’s legacy is on the line. Is Kobe a Top-10 player of all-time? Top five? We’ve created a glass ceiling wherein nobody can touch Jordan, Russell, Wilt, Magic and Bird – and often but not always, Oscar, Jerry West, Kareem and Doctor J – that Kobe is threatening to shatter. Why not? Kobe has more rings tha Bird and more buckets than Magic; he’s better defensively than West, better offensively than Russell, more clutch than Wilt. His flair for the dramatic is exceeded only by Jordan.

“Still in his prime at 31, Kobe is moving into a transitional period. The mountains left to climb have only older legends at the top, while at his heels are the younger stars gunning for his spot: LeBron, D-Wade, Dwight, B-Roy, Carmelo, Chris Paul. To that extent, he is constantly extended – both stiff-arming the challengers below while reaching for the crown held by his idols above.”

NBA Fanhouse has a sit down interview with the Lakers’ Jeanie Buss where she discusses the state of the NBA, the Lakers, her father and lets us know that she originally voted against bringing in Phil Jackson to coach the Lakers back in 1999. Thank goodness she lost that vote.

The Grizzlies’ 3 Shades of Blue blog has a preview for tonight’s game from the Memphis perspective where Chip Crain breaks down tonight’s game position-by-position.

————————-

Around The League

Much has been said about Zydrunas Ilgauskas returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after his buyout with the Washington Wizards. Many fans have been upset with the prospect of Cleveland giving up little to nothing to pick up Antwan Jamison in the three-way trade. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the League would not do anything to prevent Big Z’s return to Cleveland if he chooses to do so. There was no prior agreement of Z returning to Cleveland before the trade happened and “Z was paid more than $20mm by Cavs, missing 2 seasons w/ foot injuries. Cavs then gave him $50 million deal with no insurance protection. A potential Z return will upset people but it is within rules and decision relates to a decade-long, deep relationship w/team, fans, city. Only Kobe had a longer tenure with a team. Deal didn’t have to be pre-arranged, always going to be natural b/c of rare circumstances.” (Quote via Brian Windhorst’s twitter.)

A high-ranking NBA source denied a report that the league would prevent Zydrunas Ilgauskas from returning to the Cavaliers if he is bought out by the Washington Wizards.

The source, who requested anonymity because the league typically does not comment on what is essentially a personnel matter, told The Plain Dealer there was no truth to a report from the Los Angeles Times claiming the NBA would try to block Ilgauskas’ return because the deal was previously agreed upon by the teams.

There has been no evidence of any such agreement.

Also, this video of LeBron James’ pregame handshake rituals is hilarious. ‘Bron has A LOT of pre-game handshakes.

Allen Iverson has left the Philadelphia 76ers again to spend time with his ill daughter – the same reason he missed the All-Star Game.

The Celtics Paul Pierce could potentially miss up to a week due to his injured thumb. They would play New York, Cleveland, New Jersey and Detroit in that stretch.

Lastly, Phoenix’s Steve Nash won’t be making the trip to Oklahoma City to rest his ailing back. Nash’s back has been a problem for a long time now, it must be really bad for him to be sitting out a game against a team that they’re a half-game behind in the Western Conference.

-Phillip

[picappgallerysingle id=”7626386″]

As we’ve been reading for the past couple of days, all indications point to Kobe returning against Memphis on Tuesday.  Obviously, this is great news for the Lakers as the team is finally getting it’s key players healthy for their late season push into the playoffs.  We all know that Phil Jackson loves to have his team peak at the right time and his goals are always focussed on the big picture of performing the best come May and June and not necessarily January and February.  That said, those preparations for the playoffs do start now (if not already) and eventhough the Lakers will be without Sasha and Luke, the goals will now start to shift towards what this team will look and play like heading into the second season. 

So, now that Kobe is back, what can we expect?  A lot of people have weighed in on what the Lakers were like in his absence, but answering this question is more complex than it appears on the surface.  We all know what Kobe is capable of, but in his absence we’ve also seen a more disciplined and team focussed approach without our best player (which is natural, btw – this has happened to many NBA teams over the years as they miss their best player – look at Houston’s long win streak without Yao two seasons ago for further evidence of the bunker mentality that develops with your top guy out) .  The goal, at this point in the season, should be combining the best of both worlds (Kobe the difference maker + more aggressive and disciplined teammates) with a push towards the ultimate goal.  With that in mind, here are some thoughts on the Lakers offense, defense, and rotations with Kobe back in the fold.  We’ll start in reverse order…

Rotations:  We’ve already covered what missing Luke Walton means to the Lakers rotations.  And now that Sasha is out with his sprained shoulder, we’re likely to see even more shuffling of the lineup to compensate missing roation players.  So, in this regard, the return of Kobe could not come at a better time for a team that suddenly finds itself short on bodies that can play on the wing.  With these injuries, we’re likely to see Kobe resume his role as the primary backup to Artest at SF with him also logging more minutes at his traditional SG spot.  As we’ve discussed in the past, Phil has shown he’s quite comfortable with Kobe playing SF for extended stretches, especially with thet Farmar/Shannon backcourt.  And with Sasha also out (even though he was getting limited minutes on the season), I think we’ll also see more of Kobe in general as Shannon is the only back up SG on the roster and Phil starts to shorten rotations and play the players that he trusts most.

In the end, I think the Lakers will move more towards their most effective lineups and that means more Kobe at either SG or SF.  This may also mean experimentation of lineups that we have rarely seen this season (Shannon as a PG, LO as a SF, Ron as a SG) just because this puts our best players on the floor for more minutes.  At first take, this would surprise me as Phil is rarely one to tinker with lineups in this manner this late in the season.  It would not surprise me if these lineups were worked on in practice, but to impliment them in the games would be a step away from the normal for Phil as he traditionally has liked to build consistency throughout the season with his substitution patterns, minute allocations, and roles within units that are on the floor.  But, Phil has shown (in subtle ways) that he is not afraid to go to the players that work best (Farmar had been closing a lot of games out right before Kobe’s absence) and as the team preps for the playoffs, Phil will get players ready mentally for what he thinks their roles may be.

Defense:  Getting Kobe back is a two sided proposition to the Lakers’ defense.  On the one hand, Kobe is an All-NBA level defender.  He has the ability to slow any wing player in the league and make that player work hard to not only score the ball, but to even receive it.  I’ve often said that Kobe is one of the best players in the league at ball denials and he often does a lot of his best defensive work off the ball.  That leads us to the other side of the defensive coin with Kobe – he’s a tremendous off ball defender that truly does like to gamble and play “free safety” when he’s not the primary-on-ball defender.  This is even more true when the player that Kobe is guarding is not an offensive threat.  So, what getting Kobe back on defense means will be greatly determined by what his mind set is.  Will Kobe be the off the ball gambler whose individual freelancing help tendencies can sometimes comprimise our team help schemes?  Or will Kobe be a more traditional help defender, play his excellent ball denial defense, and exert his doberman mentality when playing on the ball?  I think the answer will probably be in between and vary based off matchups, but this will be something to monitor.

In the end, I think we need to understand that the Lakers have been one of the best two defensive teams (measured by pointer per 100 possessions) all season.  So, even with Kobe playing “center field” on defense, the Lakers have still been quite difficult to score on.  However, as has been noted, the defense has picked up with Kobe out of the line up and I think the coaches will continue to emphasize the Lakers D when Kobe returns.  I do think he’ll buy in to what the team wants and needs, but we’ll see it first hand come tomorrow evening.

Offense:  It is on the offensive side of the ball where we will see the biggest impact from Kobe’s return (pause to let obviousness sink in).  That said, the Lakers’ offense will need to incorporate Kobe in a way that optimizes what the Lakers are capable of on that end of the floor.  This is something that has not always taken place this season as evidenced by the Lakers offensive efficiency this season (hovering around 10th all season which is in direct contrast to the top five ranking of the past two seasons).   Simply put, Kobe is so talented on offense that he really hasn’t needed the intricacies of the Triangle to score his points.  Early in the season when Gasol was out, we saw Kobe in the post a great deal and he was essentially a guard version of Bynum.  He was scoring at an efficient clip, but rarely using the motions and passing opportunities built into the offense to get other players good shots.  Since Gasol has returned, Kobe has vacated the post much more, but has still relied heavily on isolation plays from the wings and P&R’s to get jumpshots or to create driving opportunities.  And because Kobe has the ball in his hands a lot, this has led to an imbalance in shot distribution that has not been slowed because his teammates have not been as agressive in either calling for the ball or forcing the ball movement away from Kobe to better set up the Lakers offense.

In the games that Kobe has been out, we have seen less of this perimeter isolation play from our wings and the fluidity of the offense has looked much better.  Yes, we’ve still seen a bit too much P&R (mostly from Farmar) and we’ve also seen a fair amount of over-dribbling, probing, and settling for jumpshots (mostly from Shannon).  But for the most part, the offense has been run through the post and this has led to better shots within the flow of the Triangle.  However, while this has led to a more aesthetically pleasing offense, it has not been any better at producing a better performing Lakers offense.  As Phillip linked to earlier today, the Lakers offense has struggled in the majority of games that Kobe has been out and moving forward, the Lakers will need to integrate Kobe in a manner where he is both killer and facilitator, primary offensive weapon and decoy that sets others up for easy shots.  The only person that can make this happen is Kobe and it must be a concious decision by #24. 

In order to accomplish this, I’d like to see Kobe operate less as a primary ball handler and much more off the ball.  If this takes place, Kobe will then become a player that will get shots more through the motions of the offense than through his own ability to create a shot.  He can use the weakside screen actions to curl to the ball.  He can set up at the weakside elbow where he has an almost unstoppable jumpshot while also eliminating double team opportunities for the defense (and if the double team does come, he can easily see where it’s coming from and make the appropriate pass – ala the Denver series last year).  Kobe can also use the “blind pig” sequence in the offense where the ball goes into the high post on a flash from the weakside (aka the pressure release) and then the weakside guard (Kobe) cuts to the baseline  where he can either receive a pass from the big on his backdoor cut or he can cut and then post up to get an easy look inside.  Essentially, Kobe can utitlize this offense better and do it in ways that he has been for years under Phil Jackson.

When Kobe does have the ball coming up the court, I’d like to see him call for the P&R less and instead initiate the post entry from the top or pass to the corner to initiate our sets.  As a captain of the team and a 10 year veteran of this offense, Kobe knows this offense inside out.  He also knows that our big men are our most efficient players and that their efficiency is at least partially based on the attention that he draws as a primary focus of the defense.  There is a balance to be struck on offense and over the past few games we’ve seen what the motion should look like, but we have not seen the high level of finishing that is possible.  With Kobe back in the fold, will now be possible again.

In conclusion, Kobe being back will be a tremendous boost to both our offense and our defense.  He will affect the game in positive ways even if he doesn’t play in a manner that fully promotes team play for every minute that he is on the court.  I mean, we will need hero Kobe at least once or twice more this regular season and in the playoffs; he will need to take over a game and that is the benefit of having him on our team.  But, I do think we will see more of a team committed Kobe than at any point we’ve seen this season.  His missed time allowed other players to get comfortable in what they need to do on a nightly basis, allowed Kobe to observe those same things, and also gave Kobe the time to rest up and come back fresh for the stretch run.

There hasn’t been much news on the Lakers front since the team hasn’t played since their Thursday loss to Boston, but we did learn over the weekend that Kobe is (hopefully) on his way back into the Lakers lineup for their Tuesday matchup in Memphis, where the Lakers lost earlier this month. He was able to go through their Saturday practice and said that he’d have to see how it felt on Sunday. The Lakers did not practice on Sunday, but Bryant did go through some personal drills and testing – no word yet on how that went.

We also learned that Sasha Vujacic had a Grade-1 shoulder sprain and will end up missing a couple of weeks nursing that injury. From Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog:

“It’s pretty painful,” said Vujacic, who is receiving ultrasound and laser treatment but has declined to wear a sling. “It’s frustrating.”

That feeling has permeated throughout most of the season with Vujacic playing a mostly limited role. But his minutes had picked up ever since Bryant’s absence, and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson credited his defense in last week’s game against Utah and in Thursday’s game against Boston. There was also a clear increase in production in the last five games during Bryant’s absence compared to his season average, including points (2.5, 4.4), rebounds (1.1, 2.0) and assists (.6, 1.8). Obviously, Bryant’s injury is the most consequential, but Vujacic’s absence definitely strikes a blow to the Lakers’ rotation.

Because of the Lakers’ success without Kobe, a lot of people have began to wonder if the Lakers are a better team without Number 24 on the floor, a ridiculous thing to wonder to say the least. Joseph Treutlein of hoopdata.com wrote an article for the New York Times analyzing the Lakers’ offensive and defensive ratings with and without Kobe and came to the ultimate conclusion that, ultimately needless to say, the Lakers are not a better team without Bryant.

On the surface, it appears the offense must be performing better sans Kobe. But looking deeper into the numbers, the surprising truth is that, despite the Lakers’ dominance over those five games, they’ve actually been performing noticeably worse than normal. Indeed, the Lakers’ offensive efficiency, on average, during the past five games has been 102.8 — 3.8 lower than their season average. While these numbers don’t definitively prove anything, they likewise don’t provide any evidence that the offense performed better without Bryant; the opposite has been the case.

So how do we explain the Lakers’ excellent play these past five games? Surprisingly, it’s on the defensive end where they’ve stepped up their game, playing far above their standard. For the season, the Lakers rank second in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing 99.6 points per 100 possessions, but in the past five games they’ve allowed an average of just 91.5 points per 100 possessions.

…So what exactly have we learned here? Mainly, that anything can happen in a five-game stretch, so we shouldn’t read too much into it; and that nothing that’s happened in the past five games suggests the Lakers are better without Kobe Bryant anyway.

Brian Kamenetzky over at Land O’ Lakers took a look at Treutlein’s article, and was able to break down the numbers a little further and provide some insight as to why there were the slight changes in efficiency in Kobe’s absence.

Treutlein correctly notes five games isn’t a large enough sample size to draw sweeping conclusions, but the numbers seem to confirm what the eye saw. The Lakers were outstanding offensively in Portland, the first with Kobe on the sidelines, posting 113.8 points per 100 possessions. Against San Antonio the Lakers were again strong, at 107.4.

From there, things got increasingly less efficient: 101.3 against Utah, dropping to 98.1 against an absolutely wretched Golden State defense, and 93.5 against Boston, the stingiest team in basketball.

In a pair of those games (at Portland, vs. San Antonio), the Lakers were more efficient than earlier matchups against the same opponent earlier in the year with Kobe available. One was basically a wash (at Utah), and in two they were less efficient (vs. Golden State, vs. Boston). Don’t look for any “smoking guns” in relation to Kobe’s performance, either. In L.A.’s first visit to Portland, Kobe was a high volume, low percentage shooter (14 for 37), In San Antonio on Jan. 12, he was a tidy seven for 10.

What people around the league should be saying about the Lakers is that the team has a much deeper talent pool than what we may have thought before Kobe sitting out as Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated has said.

Finally, Land O’ Lakers have broken down every trade and analyzed it, telling us how it affects the Lakers. Here’s a tidbit on how Kevin Martin to Houston could potentially affect the Lakers, as this is one of only two trades of consequence for a team the Lakers could potentially see in the postseason before the Finals:

As for the Rockets, Martin could pay serious dividends. Houston values efficiency, but could use a little more ‘zazz. Martin supplies both with his low volume high scoring. Dude fills it from inside, outside, at the line, playing off ball, running back cuts, etc. And he already has a feel for Rick from their Sacto days. It remains to be seen how he and Aaron Brooks–a much better scorer than pure point– mesh, but in theory, I like this deal a lot. Landry is a bigger loss than people may realize, but if you can get Martin, the still-developing Hill, and picks for Landry and the burden of one season paying Jeffries (a decent defender), that’s a good return.

The most underrated part of this trade? Martin’s presence means fewer responsibilities for Trevor Ariza, which could be a fantastic case of less being more. Right now, Ariza’s operating well beyond his capabilities and often flailing in horribly inefficient fashion. If/when Yao Ming returns healthy, that’s even less on TA’s plate, which ultimately makes him a better and more dangerous player.

-Phillip