Archives For February 2010

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Again, for the fourth straight win, the Lakers get it done without Kobe Bryant. Last night’s game saw the return of Andrew Bynum, who played very well alongside both Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. All five of the Lakers starters finished in double digits, and were led, surprisingly, by Shannon Brown’s career highs in points (27) and rebounds (10).

The Lakers got off to a great start in the first quarter. They were hitting their shots, grabbing offensive rebounds, getting stops and running the offense inside-out against an under sized Warriors team. Both Bynum and Brown finished the quarter in double digits as the Lakers took a 36-24 lead into the second quarter.

Then, as Darius suggested in his preview, the Lakers got a little sloppy, which would eventually lead to 19 turnovers and 26 points off of turnovers for the Warriors. The Lakers won 104-94, but the sloppy play kept this one a lot closer than it should have been.

On the Land O’ Lakers Blog, Brian Kamenetzky wrote about the Lakers sloppy play in the second quarter:

“Kudos to the home team for exceeding the pace set only a quarter earlier, when L.A. gave up the rock three times in barely two minutes between 9:49 and 7:48, part of a six turnover frame leading to 11 points for the Warriors and whittling a 12-point advantage after one down to three at the break. Without a seven-point burst over the final 1:32, it would have been worse, as the Lakers were stuck on 11 points for most of the quarter.

“I think we can all agree it wasn’t the vaunted Warriors defense keeping them down.

“By the end of the third, the Lakers had given the ball up 14 times, exceeding their 13.1 average with 12 minutes still to play. They’d finish with 19, as sloppy and inattentive on this night as they were razor sharp in the three leading to the break. The shot selection was often awful, as the Lakers failed to consistently take advantage of a Warriors team with almost no meaningful size down low. Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Ron Artest combined to shoot 13 of 39.”

Even though it was only the Warriors, no one should be worried about the sloppy play going into Thursday’s game against the Celtics as the Lakers have been known to lower their level of play to the competition, with or without Kobe – and the Celtics have the third highest turnover rate in the league.

Lamar Odom finished with 18 rebounds off of the bench, bringing his season average to 10.0 rpg, ranking him 12th in rebounding average in the NBA. You have to love the way LO has been playing in the four games of Kobe’s absence. He’s had rebound totals of 22, 10, 11 and 18 in the four games, and just a mere five in their last loss against Denver.

Warriors’ rookie, Stephon Curry, had one of the worst nights of his young career. He finished with an 11-10-8 line, but shot only five for 21 and one for 10 from behind the arch. This, following his triple-double against the Clippers in their final game before the All-Star break. Marcus Thompson II of the Oakland Tribune talks about his off night:

Curry had the lion’s share of the spotlight Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers. Under the bright lights of the famed Staples Center, the Warriors’ rookie guard put together one of the most memorable performances of his young career.

Unfortunately for Golden State, it wasn’t the good kind of memorable, as the Warriors lost 104-94. In a game where the Warriors needed his offense, Curry couldn’t flip a quarter off the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay.
Curry took 21 shots and missed 16. He made just 1 of 10 3-pointers, bricking five of his nine misses in the fourth quarter, spoiling the Warriors’ chance at an upset bid.

“A couple of those go down and it’s a different ballgame,” said Curry, who had 36 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds his last game. “I don’t plan on shooting that badly. Ever again.”

Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register had a nice piece on Andrew Bynum and how injuries have, and will continue to limit his growth as a basketball player, citing his reluctance to play with injuries:

“It’s becoming ever clearer that the thing that could truly stunt Bynum’s growth en route to basketball greatness is an inability to overcome what is wrong with his body. That’s why Shannon Brown’s bounce-back from his dunk-contest failures was the stir of the moment, but what happened Tuesday night that ultimately means much more for the Lakers was Bynum playing hurt.
Bynum’s reluctance to play was clear in his hesitant voice coming off the practice court Monday. Asked about the state of his bruised right hip, Bynum quickly went for the negative “didn’t feel that great” answer long before he shared that there was actually “a lot less” pain than heading into the weekend.”

As far as Kobe goes, it appears that we won’t know if Kobe will be playing in Thursday’s game against the Celtics until Kobe knows himself. Phil Jackson said that the decision was, “purely up to him” on whether or not he’d play on Thursday night. If no decision is made by Darius’ afternoon post, we’ll definitely have an update by tomorrow morning.

Last, but not least, it has been reported that Denver Nuggets’ coach George Karl has a neck and throat cancer that is “treatable and curable.” Karl survived prostate cancer back in 2005; our thoughts go out to Karl and his family in hopes that he makes another full recovery.

-Phillip

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In a game that Kobe ended up not playing, his replacement provided a nice impersonation.   Shannon Brown, fresh off a less than stellar dunk contest on all-star Saturday, showed that he seems to do his best work in live game action.  Shannon stepped in for Kobe, played a great all around game, and ended the night with a team high 27 points on 19 shots and added 10 rebounds for good measure.  Sure some of his shots were questionable and I think we’d all like to see less jump shooting, but he played a pretty efficient game (he would have been even more efficient on offense had he not missed five of his six 3 point attempts) and poured in the shots when the Lakers needed them.

A few other notes from this game:

*The Lakers started off the game quite well and jumped out to an early lead over the depleted Warriors.  Fueled by Shannon’s shot making and Bynum’s post scoring, the Lakers were showing off the talent that I thought would lead to an fairly easy win against an overmatched opponent.  The Lakers were playing a bit faster than I would have liked and, to a certain extent, were playing the Warriors’ style but it did not matter as their size inside and superior skill was too much for Golden State.

*A twelve point first quarter lead would shrink to only a three point margin at halftime as the Lakers bench couldn’t hold the lead in the second frame.  Forced shots, an abandonment of going into the post with any consistency, and overall sloppy play on offense fueled the Warriors fast break and the Dubs clawed their way back into the game.  The biggest culprits in this were Sasha (and his failed attempts to be a play maker in the half court) and Artest (and his lack of touch from everywhere while continuing to fire away).  It still baffles me that the Lakers bench doesn’t always play to their strengths as a unit by going to Gasol/Bynum/Odom in the post and letting them create easy shots and would rather try to create off the dribble and play a more freelance game.  This style can work when players are making shots, but when the shots aren’t falling the entire team suffers with stalled offense and a lack of floor balance that leads to poor transition defense.

*Bynum really didn’t show any rust in his first game action in over a week.  He was overpowering on several possessions and showed nice touch around the basket.  I think it’s too early to say what Bynum’s effect is on the flow of the Lakers offense.  The Warriors are a team that does not have the size to bang with ‘Drew on the block, so Bynum should be aggressive against this team and look to score.  Also, when Bynum was operating on the post, cutters were not as active and the Warriors defense didn’t come with hard double teams that would force ‘Drew to be a passer.  Combine that with Bynum’s tendency to use his dribble quickly and then attack when the opening presents itself and you’ve got a recipe for shot taking rather than ball movement.

*Shannon and ‘Drew were really the only players that deserve any sort of credit on offense.  The rest of the players didn’t play very well at all and made shots for the rest of the guys were few and far between.  Pau, Ron, and Odom were a combined 13 for 39 from the field and never found a groove on offense.  Some of that credit goes to aggressive interior defense by the Warriors (especially Turiaf and Biedrins) and timely help from the Warriors guards.  But overall, the Lakers front line was not sharp with its shooting and that kept the game closer than it should have been for most of the night.

*Besides the good interior defense, the Warriors should also be given credit for sticking to their plan on offense.  They continued to push the pace the entire evening and took advantage of the openings that the Lakers gave them.  Maggette barreled his way to the basket, Morrow was spotting up in transition, and CJ Watson was accurate from behind the arc and the mid-range.  The Warriors fought hard all night, but just didn’t have enough to beat a better and deeper Lakers squad.

In the end, I’ll take this win and move on.  Outside of Shannon and ‘Drew, no one player performed that great on offense and only Odom had an above average night in any one aspect of the game with his 18 rebounds.  Overall, this was a pretty forgettable win but sometimes that’s what you get in an 82 game season.  They can’t all be the supreme performances like the ones we got against Utah, San Antonio, and Portland.

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Records: Lakers 41-13 (1st in the West), Warriors 14-37 (14th in the West, 25.5 games behind the Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.4 (9th in the NBA), Warriors 106.7 (16th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.2 (2nd in the NBA), Warriors 110.6 (27th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Stephen Curry, Corey Maggette, Andris Biedrins, your guess is as good as mine

The Lakers Coming in:  So much for Kobe being back tonight.  Apparently, Kobe will sit out tonight’s contest as he’s experiencing some soreness in his ankle after yesterday’s practice.  Fortunately for the Lakers, they’ve been used to Kobe being out so they shouldn’t have to adjust to being without Kobe.  What’s more worrisome is that Kobe’s had almost two weeks off and he’s still not completely over his sprain.  I’m not going to jump to conclusions here; my first thought is that Kobe is now of the mindset that pushing through the pain just isn’t worth it and that getting as close to 100% healthy is a bigger priority than playing in this specific game.  We’ll see where he’s at for Thursday’s game against the Celtics and hope that he doesn’t have any more setbacks before that game.  As for tonight’s action, I’m anticipating that Phil calls Odom’s number and puts LO into the starting lineup.  This is what Phil did in Portland when only Kobe was out to start the game and tonight is the same exact circumstance only against a different team.  I suppose Shannon could get the nod, but Odom has performed so well as a starter in the past three games that I think this is the way that the coaches will go.

Adding to Kobe’s injury woes is Luke having another setback with the pinched nerve that’s been bothering him off and on for most of the season.  Luke was not playing a lot of minutes lately, but he was the primary backup at SF and that will likely cause a shake up in our rotations for as long as he’s out.  How Phil deals with this is anyone’s guess, but I think we’ll probably see more minutes for Ron and/or Kobe at SF or we’ll have some earlier sightings of Ammo (which for tonight, will probably mean both more minutes for Ron and Ammo getting some burn).  I do hope that Luke can heal up relatively soon, but this is the 3rd time this season that he’s had issues with his back and that does not bode well for him.  Back injuries are tricky and he may be on the shelf for a while and even miss the rest of the season.  I think we can all agree that we hope that is not the case.

The Warriors Coming in:  Even though some of their players are on the mend, this is one banged up team.  Monta Ellis is nursing a sprained knee and is planning a trip to see Dr. James Andrews to get his knee examined.  RadMan is questionable with a sore achilles tendon.  Azubuike is out for the year with a bad knee.  Raja Bell is out with a bad wrist.  Brandon Wright hasn’t played all season and Anthony Randolph could be out for the rest of the season with a very bad sprained ankle.  That’s six rotation players and only RadMan has potential to see action tonight.   As you can see from the starting lineups listed above, I have no clue who Don Nelson is going to call on to flank Curry, Maggette, and Biedrins (that could be due to the injuries or because Nellie is a bit nuts, you can choose).  Maybe Morrow will get the start next to Curry in the backcourt.  Maybe it will be CJ Watson.  Maybe Turiaf will start at PF.  Maybe Anthony Tolliver will.  It could even be Chris Hunter that starts at PF.  Every single one of those players (save Hunter) has started a game for the Warriors in their past five games.  So, really you got me on who Nellie throws out there to start the game tonight.

However, even though the W’s have had a lot of players out – leading to shuffling lineups and a lack of chemistry – some of their guys are playing well.  Steph Curry has really come on after a slow start to his rookie season.  He’s topped 20 points in each of his last three games and recorded a triple double (36 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) in his last game before the all-star break.  And before his dislocated finger on his left hand, Corey Maggette had also been putting up some very good scoring numbers and  was rebounding the ball quite well too.  Anthony Morrow has gotten over his shooting slump and is knocking down the three ball.  Biedrins is rounding back into shape after missing a lot of time earlier in the year, is rebounding better of late, and playing his typical clean up man game on offense.   And fan favorite (for both us and them) Ronnie Turiaf has been providing his typical high energy and defending the rim like a mad man (kinda like this).

Warriors Blogs Warriors World is getting you the info you need on the Dubs.  And there is always the folks over at Golden State of Mind that are always giving you a fresh take on the team in Oakland.

Keys to game:  This is a game where the Lakers could get by just by out-talenting the other team and we could just call it a night.  However, if the Lakers want to build on the success they showed before the all-star break and truly get some momentum going, they’ll want to execute their offense and pound the Warriors relentlessly.  That means running the Triangle through post entries and then working the offense to get quality shots.  The Warriors don’t have any quality big man depth behind Biedrins and Turiaf, so our bigs can come at them in waves, hit them early and often, and watch them wear down as the game progresses.  Besides attacking the post with our bigs, the Lakers should also be able to post their guards and wings – especially the players guarded by Curry and Morrow.  If either of those players end up on Artest, the Lakers can run their sets to isolate Ron on the weakside block and either attack them with the power move or wait for the double to arrive and create open shots on the perimeter for our shooters.  The Lakers will also have a tremendous offensive rebounding advantage (especially if Odom in in the starting lineup) which should be even more pronounced if they stick to the script on offense and get players lined up properly within their sets.  That means, no PUJITS (Fisher, Kobe, Farmar, Brown, Sasha – that’s a lot of guys, no?) and avoiding the first long jumper that presents itself in the half court.

On defense, be aware of the pace.  The Warriors play at the fastest pace in the league and want to turn every game into a trackmeet.  They’ll attempt to push the ball off every defensive rebound and will even try to run off of makes.  The Lakers will need to be aware of this and get back defensively.  However, when the Lakers are changing ends and getting set to play D, they’ll need to be aware of the Warriors players running to the 3 point line.  Curry, Morrow, and RadMan (if he plays) would all rather shoot the three in transition than attack the basket.  The only player that will always want to attack the basket is Corey Maggette and to contain him you have be aware that he wants to drive to his right hand and is always looking to draw the foul to get to the FT line.  Maggette is one of the league leaders in FT attempts per game (taking 8.7 per) and shoots them at a very nice 85%.  This is one of his main weapons on offense so the Lakers need to guard him without fouling.

The other key to stopping the Warriors offense is playing effective D on the pick and roll.  Don Nelson’s half court offense is based off two things: wing isolations and P&R’s.  If you stop those, you win.  The Warriors love to run the P&R with Curry as the ballhandler and either Biedrins or Turiaf as the primary screener.  Curry is a fantastic shooter so you must fight over the top of the screen when guarding him.  However, he’s also a very good ball handler and will turn the corner quickly or split the showing big man if he sees an opening.  The Lakers bigs must hedge and recover on him and make him give up the ball to a non-threatning teammate.  When dealing with the screener, understand that Biedrins will roll to the basket every time and will try to slither to an opening in order to get off his little lefty hook.  He’s very effective at this and is crafty around the basket.  The defense must disrupt his path to the hoop and overplay his left hand to make his finshes tougher.  Turiaf on the other hand is primarily a pick and pop player and would rather shoot the open 18 footer.  He’ll mix in an occasional roll to the hoop and will slip a screen every now and then, so you must be aware of those possibilities as well.

This should be a game where the Lakers win going away, the fans get tacos, and Kobe Odom has ice on his knees with 5 minutes to play.  However, if the team goes into the game without the intensity to make that a reality the Warriors are quite capable of putting points on the board and keeping this one close for longer than any of us would like.  Stay focussed and bring the executution that took out Portland, San Antonio, and Utah and this team will be fine.

Where you can watch:  7:30pm start time in the West on Fox Sports, and ESPN Radio 710am

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With the NBA taking a league-wide day off, there wasn’t much news to be reported since no major deals have been made just yet (although it looks like Miami is making a hard push to acquire Amar’e Stoudemire). However, there was much good news and a bit of bad news in the Lakers camp on the Monday following the 59th Annual All Star Game. There were reports of both Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum working out and practicing with the team. Bryant missed the Lakers previous three games before the all star break, and Bynum missed the previous two and all but 10 minutes of the game in Portland. Both Bryant and Bynum will suit up and play tonight against the Warriors. Kobe didn’t talk to reporters after practice, but Phil Jackson talked about Kobe’s mobility.

“He said he didn’t have the normal strength he’d like to have, but it’ll come back,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “That’s just getting back in the flow and getting some strength there again, re-conditioning it. He hasn’t played in two weeks so there’s a lot of things that he was trying out and trying to figure out — passes that went awry and shots he was reluctant to shoot — but he’ll come [around].”

 Even with the good news about Bryant’s and Bynum’s respective returns, the Lakers were hit with the news that Luke Walton will be out indefinitely with a pinched nerve in his back. Even though Walton hasn’t been the same Luke that I grew to love on the floor in 2008, the Lakers will definitely be able to use his passing ability down the stretch and in the postseason. When Walton was getting his most minutes from PJ, he was brought in after stretches of isolation basketball to get the ball moving from one side to the other. Hopefully this latest setback won’t keep him out for an extended amount of time.

It’s been well reported that the Mavericks have seemingly improved with Caron Butler and Brendon Haywood now on their roster, and this has had Lakers fans wondering if a trade is now imminent. I won’t get into the details that Darius got into yesterday, but Mitch Kuptchak told Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times that a trade is unlikely for the Lakers.

“There is no compelling reason to dramatically change this team, in particular its core,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. “We won a championship last year and we feel like we can be as strong this year with the one change we made — the Ron Artest change.

“If this is the team we go into the playoffs with, we’ll be happy with our roster, provided we stay healthy. The caveat, as always, is we’ll look at roster flexibility and areas where we can tweak the roster.”

 Also, after the team’s practice, Phil Jackson was interviewed after practice on everything from Kobe, ‘Drew and Walton’s injuries to their upcoming games and their poor practice to the possibility of making a trade. His thoughts of possibly moving anyone mirrored those of Kuptchak’s saying the Lakers won’t be forced to make a deal. And historically, this makes sense. The Lakers seldom make deals around the trade deadline. Since 1997, the Lakers have only made one trade in February, and that was to acquire Pau Gasol. I think it’s safe to say that the Lakers roster as it is now is going to be the one that they take into the postseason.

-Phillip

Talking Trades

Darius Soriano —  February 15, 2010

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During the All-Star game coverage, Charles Barkley said something that I think bears repeating when he was talking about all of the trade rumors and (in the case of the Dallas/Washington swap) trades that have already happened.  Chuck said that all of these trades that contenders are making are for one reason – to beat the Lakers.  I mean, the Lakers are the defending champs and are the favorites to win the championship again this season.  The Lakers may not currently have the best record in the league, but I’d argue that they have the best roster, the best coach, and have a level of confidence combined with experience that put them in position to repeat this season.  Obviously, there is no guarantee that the Lakers win – there are other very strong contenders and if the Lakers are good enough to get out of a stacked Western Conference, they’d still end up facing either Cleveland (currently the team with the best record), Orlando (runner up in last years Finals), or Boston (’08 champion and a team with loads of experience and mental toughness).  Essentially, repeating this season will be a tough task even if no other trades are made and no team improves.  But, with the trade deadline looming, one mega-deal has already been made and there are countless other rumors flying around.  Let’s take a look at what’s already gone down, what is rumored to be going down, and even touch on what the Lakers may do as we approach this Thursday.

As we’ve all read, Dallas has improved their team by acquiring Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and Deshawn Stevenson.  As I mentioned yesterday, I think this trade definitely improves Dallas by giving them a more consistent player on the wing (Butler) and also giving them one of the best defensive big men in the league in Haywood.  To me, Haywood (as much as Butler) makes this trade a real upgrade for Dallas because the Mavs have consistently struggled with teams that have strong offensive post play with only Eric Dampier standing in the way of guys like Pau, Bynum, Duncan, Dwight Howard, Shaq, etc having big nights and compromising their team defensive schemes.  Haywood is a player that can guard most of these guys one on one and enabling Dallas’ wings to stay at home on their own men.  Haywood is also a better shot blocker and rebounder than Dampier and that will help Dallas contain explosive wing players as driving lanes will be better cut off and more shots will be contested and altered at the rim.

The only downside I see for Dallas with this trade is the disruption of roles for the players that have already been on their roster.  It’s already been announced that Jason Terry will move back to the bench with Butler sliding into starting lineup at SG.  Yes, this puts Terry back into a familiar role and one that he excelled in last season – winning the 6th man award as the leagues best bench player.  But, Terry had not been performing as well in that role this season and had been playing much better of late as a starter. Does Terry stay in his groove now that he’s back to being the sixth man?  And will Butler play as well as a SG as he has playing SF for the Wizzards?  The stats seem to say that Butler is a lesser player when he plays SG as referenced by his lower PER (14.2) and his higher PER Against (16.2) as a SG rather than his slightly better numbers as a SF (14.6 PER, 14.4 PER Against).  Will those numbers change with the Mavs?  And if those numbers don’t change, what does this mean for the Mavs when games are tight at the end and their coaches must decide on what their best line up should be down the stretch of these games?  Does Butler slide back to SF with Terry playing SG next to Kidd in the backcourt?  What does this mean for Shawn Marion?  Does he now sit at the end of games in favor of a Butler/Dirk/Haywood frontline?  Does Haywood sit so Dirk can play Center and Marion can play PF (where Shawn has a much better PER but also has trouble defending PF’s)?  As I’ve noted in the past, these aren’t huge problems for the Mavs and maybe everything will be worked out with the situation coming up roses.  But, chemistry concerns are real in this league and the most talent on the floor doesn’t always mean the highest level of play.  This is something the coaches for the Mavs will need to sort out by the time the playoffs start.

Speaking of chemistry, the Cavs are looking at disrupting theirs as they explore how they can potentially improve their roster.  Already owners of the best record in the league, one would question if the Cavs even need to make a deal.  Just one week ago, Danny Ferry was saying just that.  But as players that could help Cleveland have become available via trade, the Cavs are looking to get better and have been identifying targets to acquire.  The question is, what player do they want the most and which player will actually help the the most?  The most recent player of high interest to the Cavs is Amare Stoudemire.  Apparently, the Cavs are high on STAT and think that he could be a difference maker this season and also help in retaining Lebron when he’s a free agent next summer.  But, Antawn Jamison is also a player the Cavs have looked to acquire in the past week.  But, if both of those options fail, there’s always Troy Murphy.  Based off this group of players, it’s obvious that the Cavs think their biggest issue is an offensive minded PF that could both space the floor as a shooter, play P&R with Lebron, and also rebound at a level where their team defense is not compromised.  Based off an analysis of the numbers, Amare may be the best choice for the Cavs if any deal can be made. But, again, this conclusion does not take into account any chemistry issues and what a Lebron/Amare/Shaq frontcourt would actually play like when they shared the court.  All three of those players have a usage rate over 25 and all perform best when they create shots for themselves (though Amare is also very good working off the ball in the P&R and as catch and shoot player in the mid-range).  There’s also the question of defense.  Zephid made a salient point in the comments when the Amare to the Cavs story was gaining steam over all-star weekend:

Amare has a PER of 23.4 this season, with an opponent’s PER against of 20.2. According to 82games, the Suns score 1.4 points more when Stoudemire is off the floor, and they also give up 3.4 less points on defense. All in all, Amare has a net production of -4.8 (all per 100 possessions). The Suns all shoot about the same percentage (54.1% on versus 54.2% off) with and without Stoudemire, but allow their opponents to shoot 1.2% better when Stoudemire is in the game.

This is pretty important considering the Cavs are 2nd in offensive efficiency while 5th in defensive efficiency. Is adding Amare really going to make their offense that much more potent? And will it outweigh the points they give up due to Amare’s lack of D?

Right now, Anderson Varejao plays the bulk of the minutes at PF, averaging nearly 30 a game. Varejao is also 3rd in +/- this season, so if Stoudemire cuts Varejao’s minutes from 30 to 15, that takes away a huge element of the Cavs game.

And what about the Lakers?  As I said earlier, almost any trade that a contender makes has a matchup with the Lakers in mind.  But the Lakers are not without their own issues that they may think need upgrading when making their final push towards the playoffs.  Despite the strong showings in recent games, the Lakers do have a weakness at point guard and that is a position that if not addressed this season, will need to be looked at this off-season with both Fisher and Farmar being free agents (Fisher is a UFA and Farmar is a RFA) when this year concludes.  The persistent rumor is that the Lakers are after Kirk Hinrich of the Bulls.  Is Kirk really a good fit?  I have my doubts.  His shooting is down across the board this season and his PER is not much better than Fisher’s and is lower than Farmar’s.  Yes, his defense would be a big upgrade over any of our current PG’s but his contract would be a tough one to swallow just for a defensive stopper.  And, that contract is the real issue.  The Lakers already have the highest payroll in the NBA, and taking on more salary is not the most fiscally prudent plan for a team that already has a fantastic core of (well paid) players.  This would mean any trade that the Lakers make to improve at PG would have to jettison either Sasha and/or Luke and that will not be easy.  I mean, every trade rumor involving the Lakers has Sasha as a player the Lakers give up and in those same stories you hear “sources” saying that Sasha’s contract is one that teams don’t want to swallow.

In the end, I’m not sure what is going to happen with Cleveland or the Lakers as far as trades go.  These are the two best teams in the league and both could win the title just by standing pat.  Just because Dallas made a deal, does that mean that the Lakers or the Cavs have to?  I would think that we’d see a trade from the Spurs or the Celtics or the Hawks before we saw the Lakers make a trade.  Again, the Lakers are the hunted here.  Our team is the current champion – that not only serves as motivation for other teams to try and catch us, but it also serves as disincentive for other teams to help us improve.  And, as Kurt always said, understand that this is the time of year where rumors are put out there for reasons beyond just player acquisition.  There is always a motive from an agent, an opposing GM, or it’s just plain media speculation to create a story in the silly season.  Will a deal happen for any contender?  We’ll know by Thursday, but we might as well discuss what’s out there as we countdown.

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For basketball fans across the world, All Star Saturday Night was not easy on us (just read this headline from The Times Of India, which pretty much sums it all up). The night featured a H.O.R.S.E. competition that didn’t end with the participants taking H.O.R.S.E. shots, but rather Kevin Duriant showing us all what we already knew – that he was a better 3-point shooter than Rajon Rondo. That was followed by the Shooting Stars competition, where Pau Gasol and team Los Angeles finished second to Team Texas, which was led by Dirk Nowitski of the hometown Mavericks. In the Skills Competition, the younger competitors, Brandon Jennings and Russell Westbrook, weren’t able to keep pace with Steve Nash and Deron Williams, with Nash taking his second title in the competition. Paul Pierce’s win in the 3-point contest was anti-climatic, but was followed by Pierce saying that he thought he was one of the great shooters in NBA history. Normally, I’d be shocked, but we’re used to him saying ridiculous things (read: here and here). Ending the night may have been the worst slam dunk contest of my lifetime, or at least the worst one since that “Wheel Of Fortune” debacle back in 2002. Nate Robinson ended up taking his third dunk contest title over Demar DeRozan in the final.

And as hard as All Star Saturday Night was on the fans, the blogosphere was equally as hard on our boy Shannon Brown, whose unspectacular performance left a lot to be imagined.

From the Orange County Register:

“Brown didn’t have the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders or glittery pompoms hanging around during his dunks. The Lakers guard didn’t try any outlandish tricks, use a trampoline or jump over anyone.

“There was nothing flashy or out-of-the-building spectacular about his dunks Saturday, and in the end, Brown failed to give the judges any reason to vote him the winner of 2010 All-Star Slam Dunk contest.”

From the Lakers Blog at the Los Angeles Times:

“The general public gave him a perfect lob to throw down, yet Brown bricked his chance to make himself known beyond Southern California. He scored a 78, which tied for last place with Wallace, as Robinson ultimately won for the third consecutive year.

“Rather than greeting the crowd at Dallas’ American Airlines Center with an explosive first impression, Brown missed his first dunk by bricking a 360-degree statue of liberty. He followed that up by switching from his right hand to left in mid-air for the one-handed dunk, which sparked a few golf claps and scored a 37. Brown followed that up in the second round with a one-handed slam off a lob from Kobe Bryant, a dunk that scored a 41 but was mild compared to some of the ones he’s done in an actual game.”

From Hardwood Houdini:

“I don’t know of too many people in the NBA who could exchange the ball from one hand to the next while in the air. Its not like there are players who put it between their legs, or do 360’s or anything. He followed that dunk up with a spectacular showing, where Kobe came out and threw him a lob, and he threw it down with 2 hands. Simply amazing. I have NEVER (except maybe 1-3 times in every regular season game) seen an alley oop before.”

I mean, yeah, Brown’s performance wasn’t one for the ages, but no one’s was. It was a very hard dunk contest to watch. The fans were completely dead, just waiting for a reason to get out of their seats, but no reason was presented. Wallace didn’t try, DeRozen wasn’t as creative as he was letting on, and Robinson wasn’t able to bring the theatrics we’ve seen from the ’09 and ’08 contests. Needless to say, we’ve seen better All Star Saturday Nights, and we’ve definitely seen much better dunk contests.

For the fans, Sunday’s All Star Game fared much better than Saturday’s shenanigans. Even without Bryant (Shaq did not play either, the first time neither Shaq or Kobe didn’t play in an all-star game since 1997), the Western Conference was able to put up a valiant effort, but came up two points short, mostly due to Deron Williams bonehead foul and George Karl’s inability to draw up a decent inbounds play. Pau Gasol had a nice showing in his third all star game with 13 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes of play, but Sunday night’s brightest star was Dwyane Wade, as Michael Wallace of Miami Herald’s Heat Blog explains:

“He came out passing. He came out dunking. And he came out of Sunday’s All-Star game with the MVP award after finishing with 28 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and five steals in the East’s 141-139 victory over the West.

“How big was the moment? Wade was a superstar among stars in front of the largest live audience to ever attend a basketball game. More than 108,000 fans roared in approval as Wade hoisted the MVP award. Now, Wade has an All-Star MVP to go alongside the NBA Finals MVP he won in 2006, when the Heat closed out the Dallas Mavericks in this same town to win a championship.”

Also, after the game, the Inside the NBA Crew finally released the voting for who the Player of the Decade was, and it was none other than Kobe Bryant. There were some who felt he didn’t deserve the honor, but Bryant received 54 percent of the fans’ votes while Lebron James came in a distant second with 17 percent. Although I believe Bryant is one of the most transcendent stars of any sport, I do believe that the voting should have been much closer with both Tim Duncan and Shaq a lot closer to Bryant because of what each of the three accomplished over the past decade.

Although Saturday was a dud, there wasn’t much to complain about on Sunday. With the All Star Weekend over with, teams are gearing up for the final stretch of the season. This week can make things very interesting with the trade deadline rapidly approaching this Thursday. The Mavericks already shook things up by bringing in Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendon Haywood and the Cavs are looking to bring in Amar’e Stoudamire. Be on the look out for some deals that can make a break a team’s title hopes. As far as the Lakers, they pick action back up Tuesday night against Golden State. There’s still no word on whether or not Kobe is going to play.

-Phillip

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About the Saturday night festivities: Obviously I join all Lakers fans in their disappointment that Shannon didn’t put on a better performance in the dunk contest. I was hopeful that he’d provide fans with some memorable moments, but it just wasn’t in the cards for WOW. Analyzing what actually happened with our guy, I’d say that Shannon went for the safe dunk after he missed his ‘Statue of Liberty’ 360 attempt and then he had too much ground to make up when that safer, first dunk received a low score. Switching hands on dunks is not that easy, and Shannon definitely flashed his athleticism (especially on that alley-oop) but jumping really high isn’t really enough to impress the judges. There needs to be either some showmanship or some element of newness to the dunks that you do in that contest or everyone just kind of yawns and waits for the next guy’s turn.  As for the event overall, I thought it was pretty bad.  There weren’t enough good dunks and there wasn’t enough star power to carry the event.  Oh, how I miss the days of ‘Nique and Jordan or even more recently guys like Vince, Iguodala, and Jason Richardson.  Those guys were young, but still name players in the league when they competed and they brought a level of intrigue that made kept fans watching and wondering what would happen next.  This year, the only player that competed that is even a starter on his own team is Gerald Wallace and even he’s a pretty well kept secret to most casual fans.  I’m not saying you need Lebron in the contest to make it thrive (though that would be nice), but I think you need some names to keep fans intrigued.  I also think you either need more competitors or more dunks.  Two dunks from each competitor just isn’t enough and only having four guys means that you may lose a fan favorite (like WOW) early in the competition with little to show for it by the time the night is over.

As for the other events, I was really hopeful that Steph Curry would pull out the 3-point shootout but he just didn’t have enough in him to take out Paul “I make all the money balls” Pierce.  Pierce showed everyone, again, that he is dangerous with the ball in his hands and can bury shots with the best of them (I also thought the point that the announcers made about his competitiveness was a good one).  Do I think that he’s “one of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA”?  Umm, no.  But for all the talk from the announcers that Chauncey Billups is a “streak shooter”, I think that label really belongs to Pierce as he can get hot with the best of them and can find his groove rather quickly.  Pierce is one of the few players in the league that can start a game off very slowly with poor shooting and then turn it on in the 4th quarter and start making shot after shot.  I think he showed that level of shot making last night with his 20 spot in the finals.  As for the Skills Challenge and HORSE, I think both events could use a revamping – HORSE especially.  I think the players need to be encouraged to take more outlandish shots or they need to bring in players that will try those shots all on their own (Monta, Lebron, or even Farmar as shown with his pregame “warmups”).  As for the Skills challenge, I enjoyed watching Nash (and his antics), but the event is a tad boring and I wish they’d add something to it.  Maybe they could add an alley-oop passing ring to the other passes or maybe they could enforce different dribbling techniques into the weave portion (behind the back or spin move dribbles)….I don’t know.  But, I’d like to see a bit more spice in these events.

The other big news this weekend: It looks like the Dallas/Washington swap is going to happen.  The basics of the deal are Dallas sending Josh Howard and Drew Gooden to Washington for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.  Obviously, this is a win for Dallas in that they get some really good players in this deal and the best player overall in Butler (Kobe thinks this makes Dallas a real contender for the West crown and “on par” with the Lakers).  Washington also gets the cap space that it wants as it goes into full rebuilding mode after a couple terrible seasons in a row.  My thoughts on this deal from the Dallas side are that it definitely makes them a better team. Many will look to Butler as the key cog and that’s natural since he’s the best player in the deal. But to me, it’s the inclusion of Haywood that makes this deal a strong one for the Mavs. They’ve really lacked an interior defensive presence and now they’ve got one of the better defensive bigs in the league to play against Pau/Bynum, Duncan, Boozer, and Nene in the Western Conference playoffs.  And if they were to reach the Finals with this team, Haywood would be more than just a speedbump against Shaq and Dwight. The only drawback I can see for the Mavs is that they’re still thin at SG and this puts Marion’s role in question. In crunch time will the Mavs go small with Kidd, Terry, Butler, Marion, and Dirk? Or will they play a traditional line-up with Marion at SF and Butler at SG (where both players are a bit out of position) with a Dirk/Haywood combo at PF/C? Or, will Marion sit completely so everyone can play their natural positions (with Butler at SF and Terry at SG)? These aren’t problems, per se, but they will be issues that need to be worked out with the Mavs coaching staff and getting that straight with only 30 games left in the regular season is something that will take some work and compromise from the players in order for them to truly gel.

Tonight’s Action:  I love the all-star game as it really is a supreme collection of talent all on one court.  It is a bit of a letdown that Kobe isn’t going to play, but we still get Pau in the game and as a hoops fan the Nash/Dirk reunion in the starting line up and seeing Deron in this game for the first time should be a joy to watch.  I’m also very excited to see Kevin Durant get some court time with the other elite players in this game.  He’s obviously one of (if not) the best young player(s) (outside of Lebron) in the NBA and I think he’ll prove that when he’s on the big stage.

My prediction?  Without Kobe in this game, the East clearly has the best player in Lebron.  You throw in the potential crunch time lineup of Lebron, Wade, Joe Johnson, Bosh, and Horford Howard (need that role player to do the dirty work) and I think they’ll give the West fits with all the versatility that that lineup could offer.  Could a crunch time West lineup of Deron, ‘Melo, Durant, Duncan, and Dirk overcome that group?  I’m not sure, but I’ll be watching and hoping for those closing lineups as, to me, those guys represent the best that each team could close a game with.  Final score? 128 – 121 East, with Lebron bringing home the MVP.  Comment away on what you think will be the outcome of this one.

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A couple of thougts about last night’s Rookie/Sophmore game:

*The only thing worse than some of the defense was the shot selection. I truly think that when some young players think “All-Star Game” they figure it’s a way for them to show off and they end forcing the spectacular play rather than just letting it come to them.

*DeJuan Blair is a beast.  So is Tyreke Evans.

*Yesterday, I said that I thought the Sophs would win this game because of their inside presence.  I truly believed that Lopez and Gasol would be too much for an undersized Rookie front line.  Uh, forgive me for forgetting that these types of games are dominated by guards and the big men are the players that end up shaking their heads a lot as they have to turn around and run back up court after another forced shot.

But, enough about the rookie game.  Tonight is the night we get to see our first performance from a Laker.  The NBA listened and they let Shannon dunk.  Enjoy the video below as a warmup to tonight’s Dunk Contest (hat tip to ProBasketballTalk).  I know we’ll all be rooting for WOW as he looks to bring the trophy back to to LA for the only time since Kobe did it back in 1997.