Archives For March 2010

Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder

The Lakers began this road trip winners of six straight, looking to close out the regular season on a high note as they have in the past during championship runs. They went into San Antonio and began the trip with a great win without Andrew Bynum – and the second half of that game was seemingly the last time the Lakers have played with any kind of rhythm. Tonight, the Lakers will be heading back to Los Angeles with a losing record from their five-game road trip after they lost their second straight game of the trip 109-92.

The Lakers seemed to come out in the first quarter determined to play with some extra effort. There was an edge to the Lakers that we hadn’t seen in a long time – but that edge wouldn’t last long. On the first possession of the game, Ron Artest found an open Pau Gasol for an easy dunk, and the Lakers would trade the lead with the Hawks until it was tied at 22 with 2:31 left to play in the first. About a minute later, the Hawks would take the lead after a Zaza Pachulia offensive rebound led to a Jamal Crawford three-pointer. The Lakers would never lead again – but more importantly, it was plays like that which led to a Hawks victory.

The Lakers, as they have been for much of the road trip, were simply out worked. The Hawks didn’t come out of the gate and jump on the Lakers early like the Thunder did, nor did they compile a run anywhere near the 17-1 run the Hornets had against the Lakers in the game before. No, they just out worked, out hustled and out smarted the Lakers for four quarters. For a team as undersized as Atlanta is upfront, there just shouldn’t be any reason why the Lakers are outrebounded by three, especially with the difference between the rebounding totals coming in the offensive rebound column.

For me, what was even more frustrating was their inability to play fundamentally sound basketball. The Lakers weren’t doing things like boxing out. They weren’t using the square on the backboard when they had easy looks at the rim. They made terrible entry passes and didn’t rotate the ball. They didn’t do the things that you’d expect any basketball team to make – from high school freshman teams to defending NBA champions, and this, combined with their lack of effort is why they’re losing games.

There were a few plays in the fourth quarter that really show how little the Lakers are paying attention to fundamentals and working hard:

– With 8:44 left to play, Jordan Farmar hit a three pointer, bringing the lead down to 12 points. If the Lakers were able to just get a couple of stops you would have been able to feel the air coming out of the building, finally shifting the momentum to the Lakers side. Instead of getting those stops, Maurice Evans was able to get past Derek Fisher to drive baseline for an easy layup. On their next possession, Joe Johnson drove past Kobe to get to the rim for another easy deuce to move their lead back up to 17 points. On both plays, rotations were extremely slow. (89-75, Atlanta)

– With 7:07 left to play, Kobe gets to the line and misses both free throws and the Lakers give up a long three-pointer to Joe Johnson. That’s a five-point swing at a crucial point in the game. (92-75, Atlanta).

– After Kobe hit a three-pointer to bring the game down to a 13-point deficit, the Lakers finally go down and get a stop. On the other end of the floor, Pau Gasol gets the ball on left side, and misses a four-foot jump hook off of the front of the rim. A kiss off of the glass brings makes this an 11-point game.

– The Lakers get ANOTHER stop on the Hawks next possession and bring the ball down the floor. Gasol is posting up on the left elbow with Jordan Farmar over-dribbling on the same side. Instead of looking away before making his entry, he looks at Gasol the whole time he has the ball and throws a lazy entry pass which is stolen by Josh Smith, one of the leagues best defenders. The telegraphed pass led to a Joe Johnson three, which he hit from San Antonio. That was the dagger that took away any hopes of a Lakers comeback.

It also doesn’t help when the Lakers bench is outscored by 20 points, 42-22. Jamal Crawford entered the game and was instant offense. Pachulia had a double-double off of the bench and Mauirce Evans scored 18. Without Jordan Farmar’s 16 points, the Lakers bench would have finished with only six points.

If there was any good from tonight’s game, it was from Kobe Bryant who, for the second straight game, seemed to have found his shooting stroke. He hit 12 of 21 shots and finished with 28 points. If he would have knocked down his free throws, he would have scored 30+ in consecutive games for the first time since March 7th and March 9th. Also, Pau Gasol finished with a 16 and 11 double-double. I thought Gasol could have had a huge night tonight. He had some early touches and was able to get Al Horford into early foul trouble. However, the Lakers stopped going to him and he lost any rhythm he had. Gasol finished the first half 3 for 3 while Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown went into the half a combined 1 for 11.

Ron Artest played well on Joe Johnson early in the game, forcing him into a few tough shots, but he ended the game with an extremely quiet 25 points and eight assists. Because of Evans and Crawford’s ability to score, things really opened up for Johnson in the second half to get his numbers.

Tonight’s frustrations aren’t just with the loss to Atlanta, but with all of their recent losses. The Lakers have been lacking three things that every basketball team – from the AAU circuits to defending NBA Champs – need to have: fundamentals, intensity and a sense of urgency. This Lakers team, to be quite frank, hasn’t played with any of those three in recent games. The Lakers have seven games left, three of those against losing teams and four of them at home. The Lakers play again on Friday night back at home against Utah.

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Records: Lakers 54-20 (1st in West), Hawks 47-26 (4th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.1 (10th in NBA), Hawks 111.7 (3rd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (5th in NBA), Hawks 106.7 (14th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Hawks: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford

Missing Andrew Bynum:  I haven’t brought this up lately, but the recent performances of the Lakers have definitely been impacted by the absence of Bynum.  Over at Land O’ Lakers, BK has a nice post up talking about how Andrew’s absence has affected the Lakers.  Give it a read.  What I’ll add to Brian’s take is that on this specific road trip, the games that we’ve lost were against teams that start undersized PF’s (Jeff Green, David West) that match up much better against Odom’s speed and open court game than against Gasol’s post oriented attack.  Whereas the Spurs and Rockets started two older and slower PF’s that LO could take advantage of in space by using his quickness advantage.  Obviously the Lakers won and lost the games that they did for reasons beyond just missing Bynum or what Odom brought to the table in those specfic games, but match ups are meaningful and should not be ignored.  And against teams that run out smaller four men, the Lakers are best served having that Bynum/Gasol front court that pounds teams down low on the post and gobbles up offensive rebounds. 

The Hawks Coming in:  The Hawks are a tough team for me to get a read on.  They’re obviously one of the better teams in the league some things just don’t add up with them.  They’ve won seven of their last ten games but have had some curious losses in March (Knicks, Raptors, 76ers).  They’re a very good home team (only 7 losses on the season) but are under .500 on the road.  They’ve got a very good record against a tough Western Conference (20-9) but are only 7-7 against their own division (a tough division, but still strange to me).  I just have a hard time figuring out if this team is for real or not (i.e. Conference Finals material).

On an individual level, this team is anchored by a very good core of players.  Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford are excellent talents that play all-star level basketball.  They also  have the leading sixth man of the year candidate in Jamal Crawford.  As of late all of these players have been playing pretty good ball but Horford is the player that has stood out to me.  He rarely gets the flashy numbers, but his scoring and rebounding are the definition of consistency and his defense is severly underrated.  He plays strong position D and moves his feet well on the P&R as a hedge and recover man.  His match up with Gasol tonight will be one to watch.

Hawks Blogs:  There some good spots to catch up on everything Hawks: Hoopinion and Peachtree Hoops are my first stops.  And I usually try to see if Lang Whitaker has any recent thoughts on the team from the ATL.  (Lang did sit in on the K-Bros Podcast this week over at Land O’ Lakers.)

Keys to game:  The Hawks lineup tonight is almost a mirror to the one that the Lakers will throw out.  Aging point guard, dynamic shooting guard, an all court lefty PF, and a solid big man.  I would give the Lakers the advantage at SG and C (and at SF as well, with Artest), but Johnson and Horford are very good players that, in their own ways, will cause problems for us this evening.  These similarities will make for some interesting match ups tonight and we’ll see which group of players can best utilize their similar strengths to pull out the win.

Even though I mentioned that Joe Johnson is the Hawks shooting guard, it’s very likely that he’ll be guarded by Artest tonight.  This is the match up that I’m most looking forward to.  The Hawks often isolate Johnson on the perimeter and let him attack off the dribble for either a floater in the lane or a pull up jumper from mid range.  Johnson is a player that loves to use his body to bump players off him to get to the places on the court that he likes and then shoot over the top of defenders.  And since Ron is one of the strongest perimeter defenders in the league and is not easily moved off his spot, it will be interesting to see who wins this battle. 

The other match up I’m intrigued by is Horford’s defense against Gasol.  As I mentioned earlier, Horford is a player that plays excellent position defense and battles for space on every possession.  And while he’s a bit undersized at Center, he makes up for it with his long reach, strong instincts, and excellent timing.  Pau will have his hands full tonight, but should be able to use his superior length and counter moves to get good looks at the basket.  Knocking down the mid range jumper will also help Pau get Horford off balance so let’s see if the big Spaniard can hit some of those 15 footers.

On offense there are two notes that the Lakers must be aware of.  First is that Atlanta loves to switch screens.  They have a versatile group of defenders that do well in match ups of all types.  I’ve mentioned Horford several times already, but he’s joined by Smith, Marvin Williams, and Johnson as players that possess size and quickness that allows them to guard multiple positions without giving up too much of an advantage.  One play that I’d like to see the Lakers use more of tonight to counteract this is the weakside P&R between Odom and Gasol.  I don’t necessarily want to use this action so Odom can attack Horford, but rather so Gasol can get favorable matchups in the post against Josh Smith (or whoever else is playing PF for Atlanta).  The second key in facing the Hawks’ defense is to take care of the ball.  Due to all the switching and the caliber of athletes that the Hawks can throw at a team, passing lanes close up quick and turnovers quickly go in the other direction for highlights on Sports Center’s top 10.  The Lakers need to be aware of this and not get lazy with passes, especially those that come off of screen actions. 

This is a game that the Lakers need to have in order to salvage their road trip.  Before the trip started 5-0 was thrown out their as a goal with 4-1 being a result that would be considered solid.  A loss tonight would mean a 2-3 record for the trip.  I don’t think the players, coaches, or anyone in the organization would be happy with that.  As stated earlier, Atlanta is a very tough arena to win in and their players are already calling out their fans to come out and support the home team rather than the visiting Lakers.  It’d be very nice to end this trip on a positive note with a good win against a strong opponent.

Where you can watch: 4:00pm start on the West on KCAL, also on ESPN Radio 710am.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers

Silver Screen and Roll on Andrew Bynum: As the Lakers slouch toward the end of an uninspired road trip, the status of Andrew Bynum is a festering problem. The convalescent big man has now missed five games with a strained Achilles tendon – tonight’s game against the Atlanta Hawks will make it six – and there’s no timetable for his return. Yes, my friends, once again a Laker injury is dragging out longer than we were led to expect. You may remember this feeling of impotent rage from Bynum’s first knee injury in 2008, his second knee injury in 2009, Pau Gasol’s hamstring injury at the beginning of this season and Kobe Bryant’s hand injury from earlier this year. On Monday, Phil Jackson called Bynum’s continued absence his biggest concern about the team. Certainly, having Drew on the court would be useful tonight, as the Hawks, in Al Horford, have the type of center that Drew can dominate. Horford’s a productive player, but he’s undersized, and when Atlanta visited Staples way back on November 1, Bynum scored 21 easy pointages and held Horford to 3-for-8 shooting. The Lakers won that game, 118 to 110. Kobe scored 41 and, at one point in the fourth quarter, the Lakers led by 24. Tonight’s contest, I feel safe in predicting, will be more difficult.

Land O’ Lakers on Andrew Bynum: Andrew Bynum is hardly the first Laker to spend time on the bench in street clothes this season. But he is the latest, and the combination of his injury history and the relative proximity to the playoffs makes the strain to his left Achilles tendon suffered against the Wolves back on March 19 a special sort of scary. He’ll almost certainly be out until next week, leaving the Lakers to find, or at least start looking for, their pre-postseason groove without him. A fair amount of time is spent talking about how Bynum’s presence impacts the team. Does the offense run as smoothly with him in the middle? Does Pau Gasol suffer? Then come the “What if’s?” What if he busted tail defensively 

Lakers on Andrew Bynum: Andrew Bynum is hardly the first Laker to spend time on the bench in street clothes this season. But he is the latest, and the combination of his injury history and the relative proximity to the playoffs makes the strain to his left Achilles tendon suffered against the Wolves back on March 19 a special sort of scary. He’ll almost certainly be out until next week, leaving the Lakers to find, or at least start looking for, their pre-postseason groove without him. A fair amount of time is spent talking about how Bynum’s presence impacts the team. Does the offense run as smoothly with him in the middle? Does Pau Gasol suffer? Then come the “What if’s?” What if he busted tail defensively every night? What if he found ways to stay involved even when his touches go down?

Laker Noise on Luke Walton: Lord knows I don’t want to saddle Luke Walton with any sort of “savior” label as he prepares to return to the Los Angeles Lakers bench after weeks of nursing a back injury. After all, it’s going to take time and patience for Walton to work his way back in. He’s only played two dozen games this season and has been out since just before the All Star Game. But when he resumes playing next week and if he’s able to round into form, Walton should improve a lot of things for Phil Jackson’s team. The Lakers’ bench was decidedly exposed against the New Orleans Hornets in last night’s loss, and Walton should add considerable strength there. He’s had his highlight moments defensively, but it’s the execution of the triangle offense that should improve substantially with Walton on the floor. Improving that execution should help the bench keep better control of tempo, which means they have a better chance of holding their ground, of not losing leads.

Sports Illustrated on Ron Artest: The fact that Lakers coaches and teammates are obliquely criticizing Ron Artest just three weeks before Los Angeles begins to defend its title in the playoffs actually says a lot about how reliable the 6-foot-7 forward has been this season. When the Lakers and Rockets made their virtual swap of free agents Artest and Trevor Ariza last summer, the conventional wisdom was that Artest’s rugged defense could really help the Purple and Gold — provided he didn’t suffer an emotional meltdown, hog the ball, draw a lengthy suspension or otherwise find a way to implode the team.

The OC Register on the Lakers not trying: One of Lamar Odom’s favorite sayings is that a team’s personality reflects that of its coach. So if Phil Jackson is still not trying, why should his team? And make no mistake about it: Phil Jackson is not trying yet. Here’s a recap of the Lakers’ current 2-2 trip that is being viewed as the most colossal disappointment in Lakerland since Shannon Brown arrived in the dunk contest and looked more like Derek Fisher in the layup line. Wednesday: Jackson does try at the start of the trip, sending a message to his team that he wants focus and execution in the first game in San Antonio. The Lakers start slowly but respond to the halftime prodding and dominate the second half. Thursday: Jackson holds a short practice in Oklahoma City, albeit with Kobe Bryant chillin’ in a fluorescent Nike sweatsuit instead of a purple Lakers practice warmup. When the Lakers are unable to execute any of the ball-movement applications Jackson is teaching, he goes ahead and ends practice rather than pushing them and working on it till they get it right.

ESPN on the Lakers going through the motions: The Lakers are beginning to look more and more like a group of high school seniors during the final two weeks before graduation. With their college acceptance letters in hand and their grades all but decided, they are simply going through the motions. Maybe it’s time to consider the Lakers’ current five-game road trip one big senior ditch day or perhaps an extended spring break. After all, the Lakers have shown up for only two quarters during this trip, which has actually been good enough for two wins and a 2-2 record, including their 108-100 loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Monday (the final game of the trip is at Atlanta on Wednesday). Lakers coach Phil Jackson let his team rest on Sunday after a 109-101 victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday, and apparently the players figured they’d take full advantage of the day off, by the looks of their performance against the Hornets. In many ways, the Lakers’ defeat on Monday was just as bad as their humiliating 91-75 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, which was thought to be their worst in two years.

Kurt at Pro Basketball Talk on the Lakers lollygagging: You Lakers. You lollygag the ball around the perimeter. You lollygag your way down the court. You lollygag in and out of the locker room. You know what that makes you? Kobe? Lollygaggers. Lollygaggers.  Kobe is basically thinking that. This is what he told the NBATV crew last night. “It is my responsibility to make sure that we improve and continue to move in the right direction. The playoffs are right here so it is important that I put my foot on the gas and make sure that we have in our mind’s eye the kind of urgency that we need to play with and defend… “The trap that you run into is that you play with that sense of urgency when you are down 10, 12, 13 points. That is the kind of mentality that I do not want us to have going into the post season. You kind of lollygag going into a series and then you are down 3-1. You kind of fall into that false sense of security and all of a sudden it is time to go and it’s too late.”

The Los Angeles Times on Kobe’s appearance on NBA TV (with video): There Lakers guard Kobe Bryant sat in the NBA TV studios, discussing the regular season MVP race. There Bryant stood on set, explaining the six game-winners he compiled this season. And there Bryant was, openly acknowledging that Coach Phil Jackson had once used him as a decoy on a final play. During NBA TV’s Fan Night on Tuesday, Bryant appeared in a much different mood than he displayed Monday during the final moments of the Lakers’ 108-100 loss to the New Orleans Hornets. Before the result was all but official, a frustrated Bryant punched a chair during a timeout. After it was official, Bryant’s curt one-sentence answers barely masked his obvious frustrations. Ahh, how a day can help heal wounds. “What kind of mood are you in right now?” NBA TV host Ernie Johnson asked Bryant. “You weren’t too happy last night after that New Orleans game.” “I was very jovial,” Bryant joked. “Yeah, right,” Johnson laughed. “How you feeling now?” “I’m OK,” Bryant said. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s game.”

Lakers/Hawks preview from The No Look Pass: Waaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy earlier in the year, the L.A. Lakers beat the Atlanta Hawks, 118-110. The rematch happens tonight in the Highlight Factory. The stakes are much higher now than they were in the first week of the regular season. The Lakers are just kind of going through the motions despite winning 8 of their last 10. The Hawks are trying to claw into the Top 3 of the East as they have the same record as the Boston Celtics.To help me preview the game, I asked Lang Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker (I wonder if he feels old when I call him that) is the executive editor of SLAM Magazine, appears on NBA TV’s “The Beat” every Tuesday night (first airs at 6:30 P.M. Eastern), and writes a column for Hawks.Com. He also has a book (that will be published by Scribner) due out sometime next year, which is untitled as of now but it’s a memoir about him growing up as an Atlanta Braves fan during the Bobby Cox era. So baseball fans, especially Braves fans, can look forward to that.

Lakers/Hawks preview from Sporting News: The Los Angeles Lakers have the Western Conference‘s top seed all but wrapped up, so going 2-2 thus far on a strenuous five-game road trip doesn’t seem like much of a reason to panic. The defending champions see it a bit differently. Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom were furious with the Lakers’ effort in their latest loss, but to bounce back with a trip-ending victory Wednesday night they’ll have to snap the Atlanta Hawks’ eight-game home winning streak. Los Angeles (54-20) picked up its seventh straight win to kick off its five-game trip, limiting San Antonio to 35 points after halftime in a come-from-behind 92-83 win. The Lakers’ defense hasn’t been nearly as sharp since. Los Angeles fell behind by 33 and allowed Oklahoma City to shoot nearly 50 percent in a 91-75 loss Saturday, then Phil Jackson said he wasn’t happy as the Lakers let a 21-point lead dwindle to single digits late in a 109-101 win at Houston one night later.


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We’re 74 games into the season and this Lakers team has not changed at all.  I mentioned it in the recap to the Hornets game and several other times before: the Lakers are what they are – consistently inconsistent.  That said, while this is frustrating, I’ve learned to live with it.  That’s because following the Lakers, for me, is like anything else in my life that gives me both tremendous joy and moments of anguish.  And it leads me to respond the way that I always do.  Which is enjoying the good moments more than I let the bad ones bother me.  Why do I bring this up?  Because at this point in the season I think all Lakers fans need to understand that while there isn’t a switch that the Lakers can flip that turns them into a juggernaut (the best example of this would be the 2001 Lakers team), there is also no need to break the glass enclosing that panic button to start pressing away.

This Lakers team is one that has the talent and the will to win.  I know this because I’ve watched the games.  I’ve seen them respond in tough situations by clamping down on defense and getting the baskets that they need on offense.  I’ve seen them rattle off wins when both Kobe and Bynum have missed games.  I’ve seen them (well Kobe, really) make improbable shots that won games or forced overtime.  I see no need to panic over this team.  Not a team that has the players and character that this one does.  But, I’ve also seen this team loaf for entire games.  I’ve seen them go away from what is obviously working to do something else that is not nearly as successful.  I’ve seen questionable offensive possessions transition to suspect defensive possessions and then watched that cycle repeat for chunks of minutes at a time.  Watching these types of performances for nearly and entire season also lets me know that there is no switch to flip for this team.  There is no level that is much higher than the best that they’ve played this season.

And therein lies the rub with this team.  The complete game that we’ve longed for all season has been pretty much absent.  There have been few wire to wire wins.  Even fewer games where strong opponents have been put away early with the Lakers’ collective foot on their throat.  But, this team has won 54 games and that’s not on accident.  You don’t stumble into 54 wins.  That many W’s just don’t appear in the ledger by accident.  Those are earned.  It’s just that they haven’t been earned in a way that us fans have wanted.  We take issue with that and I don’t think we should be blamed for feeling that way.  We want to see wins and we want them our way.  Dominating performances that make teams fold.  Consistent effort that leads to the Lakers out performing their opponents at everything.  We haven’t seen too much of that this season.

But, I also don’t think it matters much.  One year ago today, the Lakers were 58-15 and had just lost to the Hawks on the road.  If we really remember what that team was like last season, these current Lakers are not too different.  They played down to their competition.  They lost games fans thought they shouldn’t.  Their commitment to executing on offense was spotty.   I do understand that this is a difference, though.  That difference was the will to beat the best teams.  A hunger fueled by losing in the Finals the year before.  That is gone this season.  But I almost expected it to be (as sad as that sounds).  When you win, the drive to win again can be difficult to muster every night.  Meanwhile the opposition’s desire is never stronger than when the champion enters the arena.  I don’t think many Lakers knew what that would be like and it’s been a trial by fire all season.  So be it.  Sink or swim.  The real question is, now that the regular season is closing, will the Lakers find that drive?

And that brings us to the playoffs.  On the day after that afforementioned loss to the Hawks last season, Kurt wrote this in a post:

I am not that worried about going into the playoffs with a ton of momentum. I said this in the comments but I think it bears repeating — the playoffs are another season all together. They have their own ebb and flow, and teams will improve during them. Remember last year (2008) — the Celitics looked like crap in the first round. And much of the second. Nobody thought they looked like a champion, getting taken seven games twice. How did that end? The playoffs are another animal, all together.  That is not meant to say I think the Lakers need dramatic improvement, but rather a reminder that what is going on mid-April and in June are just simply different. And not easily predictable.

Now, this season is different in many ways to last years’ as the concerns that face this team – it’s outside shooting and their struggles at PG to name two – are real and exploitable.  That said, I believe in Kobe Bryant.  I believe in Phil Jackson.  I trust them to lead and coach and help get this team to play their best in the playoffs.  I trust that just as the other team will be creating game plans to try and expose our weaknesses our coaches will be formulating counters to those plans and creating plans of their own to attack the other team.  All while preparing the players to execute.  The second season is near and while I do have worries, I also feel excitement.  The Lakers are the defending world champs and as the doubters voices get louder I expect the Lakers resolve to strengthen.  It will not be an easy road to navigate, but it was never going to be.  I still think our guys will be ready for the challenge.  So forget about this team flipping a switch and don’t reach for that panic button yet.  There is too much season to play and this team, with all it’s flaws, still has a very good chance to finish what was started in October.

NBA: Lakers vs. Kings Mar 16


Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant are about as long as the list of Lakers who played well last night. Ron Artest had some good moments early in the game, but it would be hard for me to find any other Laker to include in The Good. Pau scored the Lakers first 12 points and had 14 of their 27 first quarter points. Gasol would finish with 26 and 22 while Kobe would turn his scoring on late to score 31 with five rebounds and six assists. More importantly, Kobe got his 31 on only 18 shots and got to the foul line 11 times. It was a rather efficient game for both Bryant and Gasol, but those were the only two Lakers with even remotely efficient games.


Derek Fisher. Jordan Farmar. Josh Powell. Lamar Odom. Phil Jackson. Brian Shaw. Shannon Brown. Me. DJ Mbenga. Pretty much everything else went wrong for the Lakers last night. They pulled down more rebounds and turned the ball over fewer than 10 times, and when that happens, it usually equals a Lakers win. However, that obviously wasn’t the case last night. The Lakers showed little to no kind of sense of urgency until the last half of the fourth quarter, they kept the Hornets on the foul line (34 attempts) shot too many three-pointers (seven for 29) and allowed an undersized New Orleans team to shoot 49 percent from the field. The Lakers were out hustled to all of the loose balls, even though they won the rebound battle, they were consistently giving up great position to the Hornets, and Chris Paul was able to do whatever he wanted to the Lakers point guards. In Paul’s three games back from his injury before the Lakers amassed more than 10 points once and more than 10 assists once. Last night, Paul finished with 15 and 13, with his impact on the game speaking in larger volumes than what the box score says.


From the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant raced down the other end of the court, bearing a determined look and chewing gum profusely. He had just made a putback off Jordan Farmar’s missed free throw, which cut the Lakers’ deficit to six points after trailing New Orleans most of the game by double-digit margins. The task was far from over, but with the Lakers scoring 11 unanswered points with 5:35 remaining in the game, Bryant’s stoic demeanor gave the impression the team seemed well on its way to completing the comeback effort. With 38.1 seconds left, Bryant’s reaction changed altogether as it became apparent the Lakers’ run wouldn’t be able to camouflage the lapses that had put the team in this predicament in the first place. Those wondering how Bryant would react to the Lakers’ eventual 108-100 loss Monday to the New Orleans Hornets were given a sneak peek after Coach Phil Jackson called timeout with the team trailing by five points. Bryant approached a chair on the Lakers’ bench, punched it, and then sat down in disgust.

From Silver Screen and Roll: That ticking you hear? That’s a clock counting down to the playoffs. The Lakers have only eight regular-season games left, and if tonight’s contest – a 100 to 108 loss to the New Orleans Hornets – proved anything, it’s that the problems afflicting the Lakers since the beginning of the season are still very much with them. When you consider the whole of these last five months, does it seem to you that the Lakers have improved? At all? At this point, shouldn’t they have their act together just a little bit more than they do? I know I shouldn’t seek to extract too much meaning out of a single game. But when the full run of a team’s flaws crops up in one 48-minute stretch in late March, it’s hard not to see critical signs everywhere. These problems are real, and they’re apparently not going away. Let’s go to the post-mortem.

From Hornets 24/7: The biggest crowd of the season saw the Hornets at their best tonight, getting an early jump on the Lakers, building up big leads and refusing to surrender. They were physical and acted like they had something to play for, even though they’re just a couple of weeks away from certain vacation. Some might argue that wins like this are pointless, but I have to disagree. The Hornets needed Chris Paul to come back for the home stretch, playoff hopes or no playoff hopes, and the fans were in dire need of some thrills before this ugly season ended. They need to believe that the Hornets aren’t completely broken, that there’s some hope for next season, some reason to renew those season tickets. And tonight they got that. 18,205 of them (plus Bruce Willis) were treated to scrappy defense, big runs and a win over the best in the West. 108-100 the final score.

From Land O’ Lakers: With 8:42 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Lakers down by 87-72, KCAL sideline reporter/’s very own John Ireland busted out one very surprising sideline interview: Bruce Willis! That’s right. John McClane himself, in the Big Easy to film a movie. Willis was enjoying courtside seats courtesy of the generosity of Hornets owner George Shinn. And judging by his easy-breezy vibe, he seemed to be enjoying everything N’Awlins has to offer. I’m not saying the man definitely indulged in a few Seagram’s Golden Wine Coolers. I’m just not entirely comfortable proclaiming he hadn’t.  At any rate, the chat initially felt like little more than than a random oddity involving a celebrity at a Lakers game outside the confines of Staples Center. A new twist on a familiar sight. Good for a few “Hey, it’s a loopy Bruce Willis!” tweets from Lakers fans and basketball scribes, but nothing of actual consequence.

From the OC Register: The Lakers ran into the Cleveland Cavaliers last Wednesday night in San Antonio. The Lakers were staying over at their luxury hotel after facing the Spurs, and the Cavaliers were checking into the same hotel before they faced the Spurs. The next time the Lakers see the Cavaliers — if there is one — looks like it will be in Cleveland. The Lakers’ 108-100 loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Monday night dropped the Lakers four games behind the Cavaliers for the best record in the NBA. Each team has eight games left, and Cleveland seems to have locked up home-court advantage in a potential NBA Finals matchup. Then again, before the Lakers think about LeBron and Shaq, they need to worry about being unable to meet the intensity of a New Orleans team already eliminated from postseason contention. “Just didn’t play well,” Kobe Bryant said about the Lakers falling to 2-2 on this trip.

From the Los Angeles Times: This late in the season, this far into March, the Lakers continue to give reasons to scrap championship-parade plans. The runaway leaders in the Western Conference on Monday tossed another clunker onto a growing pile of them this month, falling to New Orleans, a team that was officially eliminated from playoff contention last week, in another uninspiring effort. Chris Paul and Darren Collison ran circles around the Lakers in a 108-100 Hornets victory at New Orleans Arena, leading to a seething outburst from Kobe Bryant, who punched a chair on the bench in the final minute and was still simmering half an hour later in a postgame interview that lasted all of 42 seconds. Bryant obviously didn’t like what he saw unfolding in front of him. He had 31 points and Pau Gasol had 26 points and 22 rebounds, but there was almost nothing else to appease the Lakers’ superstar, in case the brief postgame transcript didn’t prove the point.

From The Times Picayune: The origin was anyone’s guess, so if someone affiliated with the New Orleans Hornets told you he or she knew New Orleans had an effort in it like Monday’s game at the New Orleans Arena, turn and walk away and don’t bother debating. After watching the Hornets recline in consecutive blowout home losses to Cleveland and Portland, and drop 14 of their previous 18 games entering Monday night – 11 of them by double figures – there was absolutely no reason to believe they’d find a spine in time to play the Western Conference-leading Lakers. But find a spine they did. And a couple of fists. And some sharp elbows. And the result was a 108-100 victory that was improbable, fulfilling and frustrating all in one. It was improbable because of the former, because the Hornets had begun playing like they didn’t have much stomach left for the season long before they had nothing left to play for besides pride.

From The Times Picayune: Three hours before the Los Angeles Lakers’ bus made its way to the New Orleans Arena, Kobe Bryant already was on the court taking jump shots in preparation for Monday night’s game against the New Orleans Hornets. It did not matter that his right index finger was discolored and fractured. For 2 1/2 hours, Bryant took shots from nearly every spot on the floor when most of his teammates still were at the team hotel on Canal Street. Having an intense drive, Bryant’s motivation remains the same as it was last June when he walked on the floor for Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic. Winning his fourth NBA championship last season, he wants to repeat this upcoming June. “To win is the only reason I play, ’’ Bryant said. ”It means everything to me.“

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(Yeah I went with an old school ‘Zo picture here. What can I say, I’m in that kind of mood. That look on his face is just like mine…)

After game four of the 2004 NBA Finals, Phil Jackson said something along the lines of “we wasted one of the great games from Shaquille O’Neal tonight” as the Lakers lost a game where Shaq went for 36 points and 20 rebounds against the Pistons.  Well, while this game was no where near that magnitude, I feel like the Lakers wasted damn good games from Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant tonight.  Pau went for 26 points and 22 rebounds and Kobe had a well rounded line of 31 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists but it wasn’t enough as the Lakers fell to the Hornets 108-100.  Just a frustrating finish to a game in an increasingly frustrating road trip that has the Lakers taking one step forward and then one step backward every other night.

How do the Lakers lose on a night where Kobe and Pau put up such gaudy stats?  Actually, it’s pretty simple.  When James Posey (a substitute, mind you) outscores the entire Lakers bench 13-12, that’s how.  Or how about when Darren Collison (another Hornets back up) matches the point total of two Lakers’ starters (Fisher and Odom) with 17 points.  Another good reason would be how Artest would have shot 5-6 from the field had he not went 1-8(!) from three point country (including several wide open attempts from the corner) leaving him 6-14 from the field and a point total (14) that matched his FGA total.  I think you get my point.  The Lakers outside of Pau and Kobe showed no consistency and the Hornets were steady enough throughout the contest to earn the win.

Really, this game turned on a 17-1 Hornets run that started in the late part of the 1st quarter and ended around the 8 minute mark of the second quarter.  That run saw a 4 point Lakers lead turn into a 12 point deficit that the Lakers would never overcome.  Sure, the Lakers made a strong push of their own at one point coming within a basket when the scoreboard showed 58-56.  But when a Kobe turnover turned into a three on one Hornets fast break, Fisher’s great defense to disrupt a pass turned out to be a curse as the ball bounced around and got kicked out to a wide open Marcus Thornton who ended up nailing a three pointer.  A two point lead went to five and even though the Lakers kept it close for a few more minutes they’d never really threaten again.

Games like this are extremely frustrating because rather than doing the little things that lead to wins, the Lakers did just enough to disrupt comebacks and lose.  On back to back possessions and within three points of tying Kobe and Fisher fire up forced three pointers that miss.  Instead of going into Gasol on the low block, we swing the ball around the perimeter and settle for long jumpers.  Several times in both halves the Lakers had defensive breakdowns that led to wide open shots.  On one play they’d get caught watching as Chris Paul handled the ball on the P&R and then lose track of their man when he’d make a back cut.  On another play, one of the Lakers’ bigs would over help on penetration and give up an easy offensive rebound for a put back bucket.  There were even a couple of plays where Chris Paul was left wide open after he used a hesitation dribble off the P&R because the hedging big man then left him to recover to his own man and then the guard that was supposed to come back to Paul stayed with the switch – resulting in an easy, wide open jumper for CP3.

And then there were the fouls.  The Lakers were reaching and grabbing Hornets players – often out of their own frustration from not getting calls on the other end.  But rather than playing smart and hunkering down on defense, they’d commit needless fouls that ended up sending the fourth best FT shooting team in the league to the foul line for easy points.  These types of mistakes are always costly, but they’re even more painful when they happen the middle of the Lakers trying to make a dent in a lead; when the margin for error is so thin because the deficit is not decreasing but the game clock is.

In the end, this game was just an overall downer.  As I mentioned earlier, the Lakers seem to take a positive step forward and then follow it up with a poor performance.  I wish I could say that this is an anomaly but it’s not.  As we’ve discussed before, the Lakers are consistently inconsistent.  It’s who they are.  They have the talent to win any game while (seemingly) having the attitude that allows them to perform poorly in any game as well.  Whether or not it hurts them down the line remains to be seen, but it is mighty frustrating to watch as the regular season comes to a close.

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Records: Lakers 54-19 (1st in West), Hornets 34-40 (11th in West, 20.5 games behind Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.0 (10th in NBA), Hornets 107.1 (16th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.8 (4th in NBA), Hornets 109.8 (23rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Hornets: Chris Paul, Marcus Thornton, Morris Peterson, David West, Emeka Okafor

The Lakers Coming in:  After getting back on track against Houston, the Lakers are looking start a new winning streak.  As I mentioned yesterday, the Lakers brought back some offensive wrinkles that they have not used consistently this season and it led to better offensive execution.  As the Lakers get closer to the playoffs, fine tuning their offensive and defensive sets are imperative for playing strong basketball when the games take on an even greater importance. 

On the injury front, it looks like Walton and Bynum are on track to return to game action a little after this road trip is over.  If they’re both able to return to the line up by the Spurs game on April 4th, that would give them six games in the regular season to prepare and get their sea legs back for a playoff push.  That sort of timeline is not ideal (I would have liked for both players to get about 10 games in) but I’ll take what I can get and just hope for good health for the entire team heading into the post season.

The Hornest Coming in:  The Hornets finally have Chris Paul back from injury after he missed 25 games with a knee injury.  However, even now that he’s back, the Hornets are still struggling to get wins.  Yes, they beat Dallas in CP3’s return to the court, but they’ve since lost two straight games.  And those losses fit right into the pattern from before Paul’s return where they had only won two of their previous eleven contests.  The Hornets just aren’t a great team right now and are missing the adequate depth to give them a chance to win over the course of an entire game.

Despite the losses though, the Hornets do have some positives surrounding their organization and they came to the forefront because of Paul’s injury.  Rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton have shown that they are very good NBA players that deserve time on the court and can help this team down the road.  While young, they have talent and have games that translate to this level.  Collison’s ability to run the P&R and be an all court threat with his shot and Thornton’s scoring ability may not have ever been put on display to the extent that they were had Paul been healthy, so if there was ever an injury to a top 5 player in the NBA that actually helped a team learn more about itself (other than the fact that they’re bad) it was this one.

Hornets BlogsHornets 24/7 is a great place to start for solid info on the team from New Orleans.  Also check out At the Hive.

Keys to game:  Offensively, the slowing down the Hornets starts with containing their guards and dealing with still underrated David West.  The Hornets guards are excellent P&R players and now that Collison has shown how good he is, there is little drop off when Paul comes out of the game.  The Lakers will need their “A” game tonight when defending the P&R and will need to make up their minds early about what they want to give up.  Both Paul and Collison are capable shooters and are dangerous in the paint as well.  So, will the Lakers chase over the top and give up the driving lanes or will they go under screens and make their guards hit jumpers?  Either way, they must commit and stick to the plan and trust the scheme.  Because miscommunication or errors will lead to buckets.

Slowing West will be on Odom (and I think Ron will get some minutes on him as well) and we should take comfort in the fact that LO is the type of rangy defender that can give West problems.  West loves to shoot the mid range jumper and is a capable driver when you close out too hard on him.  He’s often the screen man in P&R situations and will usually “pop” to an open space where he can get him jumper off.  The Lakers will need to do a good job of helping the helper tonight to avoid letting West get comfortable when shooting his J.  West also shows a good post game, though, so LO will also need to be strong on the block and shade West in a manner where he can’t easily get off his righty jump hook.

One other note defensively: Kobe will need to be more than just a free safety tonight.  Both Peterson and Thornton are capable shooters that will make the wide open jumper.  Kobe can’t find himself watching the ball too often when Paul/Collison are working the P&R.  Because those guys will take advantage of over helping and hit the open players for good shot attempts.  We don’t need the Kobe that was guarding Quentin Richardson in the Miami game.  We need the dialed in version of Bean tonight.  Let’s hope we get him.

On offense, while the Horntes possess solid post defense with Okafor, he is undersized so the Lakers need to go into Pau early and often.  Similar to the way that the Lakers attacked Houston, I hope to see Pau get some post isolations in space on the weakside so he can have room to operate without those pesky Hornets guards digging down and reaching in for steals.  And while Okafor is a good shot blocker, he’s much better getting blocks when you attack the rim and expose the ball.  Emeka has excellent timing, but if you feint and diversify your attack, it is easier to get shots up.  Luckily, this is  trademark of Pau’s post game so he should be able to establish some sort of success.

As for our other main threat, this is another game where Kobe should be able to play efficiently.  He’ll either be guarded by Mo Peterson or the rookie Thornton so Kobe should be able to both go to the block and use the motions of the offense to find creases in the defense to get his mid-range game going.  The same is true for Artest as whichever player isn’t on Kobe will be on Ron and #37 will have a big strength advantage over both players.  We may actually see some effective post ups from Ron tonight especially off of his scissor cut into the lane after feeding the post where he acts like he’s clearing out the side only to stop short and get a post up.

From a team wide perspective, this is a contest where controlling the defensive glass will be key.  Okafor and West combine for over 5 offensive rebounds a game and earn their team many extra possessions by either grabbing rebounds or drawing loose ball fouls.  Considering our front court depth is shallow right now, we don’t need LO or Pau picking up early fouls just contesting rebounds.  Our bigs need to box out, secure the ball, and push the tempo back the other way.  I do think this is a team we can take advantage of in transistion so I’d like to see us exploit them by racing the ball upcourt more.  Especially on the second unit when Aaron Gray replaces Okafor.  Neither of those players will win many footraces, but Gray will come in last almost every time.

Where you can watch:  5:00pm start time in the West on KCAL, also on ESPN Radio 710am.


From Land O’ Lakers: Do not be fooled by the final score. In this case, objects in mirror were not nearly as close as they appeared. Not after the first 12 minutes of play, at least. In a lot of ways, the first quarter of Saturday night’s game could easily have been the fifth of Friday’s debacle in Oklahoma City. The Lakers turned the ball over five times leading to eight Rockets points, allowed easy buckets inside, and ignored too many shooters on the perimeter. After one, the Rockets led 34-27, behind despite shooting well over 50 percent from the floor.  From there, though, the Lakers raised their level far to high for the wee Rockets to reach. (Congratulations to those who saw the height joke coming.) Over the first six minutes of the second quarter, the Lakers scraped their way back into the game, erasing Houston’s lead. Over the final six minutes, they dropped the hammer, outscoring the Rockets 20-2, the 20 coming unanswered. It was 360 seconds of total domination.

From the Los Angeles Times: The Lakers had a fairly easy time beating the Houston Rockets. No, really. Unlike last season’s playoffs, or the Lakers’ return trip to Houston earlier this season, Saturday was a relative breeze for the Lakers, who beat an undermanned Rockets team, 109-101, at Toyota Center. Pau Gasol had a season-high 30 points, Kobe Bryant had a near-triple-double (17 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists) and the Lakers improved to 2-1 on their five-game trip after a deplorable outing the previous night in Oklahoma City. The Lakers’ first quarter was poor and their fourth quarter wasn’t great, but they had a dominant middle two quarters, good enough to win in a city that had troubled them in recent trips. They outscored Houston, 35-11, in the second quarter alone. Gasol was solid, making 11 of 17 shots and eight of nine free throws and blocking four shots.

From the Los Angeles Register: he dust settled just the way the Lakers said it would, with a strong bounce-back effort. Windswept in Oklahoma the night before, the Lakers moved on and smoothly handled the Houston Rockets, 109-101, on Saturday night. At the crux of it was Pau Gasol, who had suggested the Lakers would respond well from trailing Oklahoma City by 33 points Friday night. Gasol helped make sure with a season-high 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting, eight rebounds and four blocks. “We tried to be aggressive and bounce back,” Gasol said. Gasol was facing the Rockets for the first time this season, having missed all three previous games because of hamstring injuries. The Lakers went 2-1 in those games. The Lakers entered the game 42-13 when Gasol plays, beating teams by an average of 7.1 points. It was more of the same Saturday, when DJ Mbenga pitched in with some helpful minutes that couldn’t go to injured center Andrew Bynum, whom the Lakers hope will return in a week.

From the Los Angeles Daily News: In the end, it might have been just an aberration, a one-game letdown that was a consequence of an 82-game slog through the regular season. Twenty-four hours later, the Lakers played like champs again instead of like chumps. They defeated an inferior, battered and bruised team with relative ease. They ran faster, jumped higher, passed sharper, shot better and made better decisions with the ball. They had more energy and their defense was improved. Buoyed by an electric run to end the half, the Lakers defeated the undersized and undermanned Houston Rockets 109-101 on Saturday night at the Toyota Center. They rebounded smartly from a thrashing Friday by the Oklahoma City Thunder. “We didn’t worry about (Friday) night,” Lamar Odom said, shrugging after the Lakers won for the eighth time in nine games. “It was a beating, but we had to be prepared for (Saturday night), and we were prepared.”

From Silver Screen and Roll: The Lakers started this one sluggish.  They gave up 34 points in the 1st Quarter and it looked liked I was going to start looking for that ticket to New Orleans, because Aaron Brooks came out hot.  He scored 12 points in the 1st, and Jermaine Taylor added another 10.  Not the boxer, in case your wondering, but he might’ve scored another 6 the way it as looking.  The Lakers had energy, but the defense lacking and t looked like it might be another long night.  Then the Lakers really woke up. Probably remembering how much they stunk last night, they scored 35 points in the 2nd while only letting up 11, highlighted by a pretty ridiculous 20-0 run in the last six minutes of the half, where Houston missed 10 straight shots.  Houston went from hot start to merely missing awful shots.  The Lakers rode Pau and Fish actually dropped some buckets, amazingly     -puts shotgun back in case-. To put into perspective how much the Lakers sucked the night before, realize that the Lakers surpassed their point total against Oklahoma less than halfway into the third.

From the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets did enjoy themselves for a while. Jermaine Taylor got his first NBA start, drained a few 3s and did not get toasted by Kobe Bryant. The Rockets forced the Lakers into some missed shots, got out on the fast break and took a nine-point lead. But they also got the Lakers’ attention. Big mistake. When the Lakers clamped down defensively, the Rockets’ offense crumbled. The Rockets had not been stopping the Lakers much anyway, so the Lakers rode their retort to the Rockets’ fast start to a 20-0 second-quarter run and cruised to a 109-101 win Saturday night before 18,583 at Toyota Center, the largest crowd in Rockets history. “I got the sense the whole game,” the Rockets’ Luis Scola said, “they were controlling the game.” The Rockets’ four-game losing streak is their longest of the season and dropped their record to .500 for the first time since the second game of the season. But of the four losses, this was their best, if only because there was a stretch in which they did play well. But with six minutes left in the first half, the Lakers dropped a defensive anvil on a Rockets offense that had begun to crack.

From The Dream Shake: Well, that’s four in a row.  Time to start looking for moral victories, as actual victories have been scarce of late.  But while the losing is disappointing, there is a lot to be happy about as a Rockets fan. What’s to be happy about?  I’m thrilled you asked, Mr. Strawman. 1. Rockets rookies played 72 minutes in tonight’s contest. Jermaine Taylor played against arguably the best SG in the NBA.  He notched 15pts, 5rbs, 3asts, 1stl in 30 minutes of game action.  Sometimes he drove the lane and looked lost, sometimes he couldn’t handle his defensive assignment, but very few can.  Mostly he played like he belonged in the NBA. Jordan Hill, still on a sore ankle, still the tallest usable Rocket, got 8pts and 6rbs.  He drew an assignment against the indispensable Laker, Pau Gasol.  At times the grubby Catalan made Hill look like a rookie, but guess what?  Hill did the same to Pau a couple of times.  Hill is an NBA player, too.

From The Lakers Nation: Midway into the five game road trip, the Lakers have a record of 2-1, and have two more games on Monday and Wednesday. The Lakers came into the road trip on fire, winning six straight games and looking to extend their streak at San Antonio. The San Antonio Spurs came into last Wednesday’s game with the sixth seed at 42-27. The Lakers were very familiar with the Spurs and could possible meet them in the Playoffs this season. “We’re relatively familiar with San Antonio,” Jackson said. “They played us in the playoffs a year ago. We have a rivalry that goes back a long ways. We have some sense of who they are and how they play.” Even with All-Star guard Tony Parker out, the Spurs were still very talented, and with George Hill leading the point, the Spurs were looking for an upset. The game was aggressive off the bat, and in the first quarter Lamar Odom put in 10 while Hill had 14 on 5-7 shooting. The Lakers were outscored in both of the opening quarters and were down 48-41 at the half. The Spurs had all the momentum going into the third, but the Lakers made adjustment and came out firing.

From Silver Screen and Roll: I’ve been riding Derek Fisher pretty hard lately.  I take no pleasure in continuing to point out the obvious flaws in his game.  It’s not my idea of a good time to break down statistically how bad he is on both sides of the ball.  It’s simply part of the job description.  In analyzing why this Los Angeles Lakers team is failing to live up to expectations, Derek Fisher is a key element.  Not the only element, or even the most important one.  But, the continued degradation of his skills is certainly playing a vital role in helping this team to appear mortal. Or so I think.  But hey, I’m an open minded kind of guy.  So I’ve decided to give Derek a chance to prove me wrong.  Tonight, I give Fisher the chance to show me all of the “unseen” things he does to help the team.  Whenever Fisher is on the court, I will literally watch him the entire time.  I admit, I’ve given Fish a tough assignment, as tonight’s game pairs him with the uber quick Aaron Brooks, who is no stranger to leaving Fisher in his dust.  But, lets see what intangibles the naked eye can spot when it’s trying really hard to see them.

From Pro Basketball Talk: Take a look at our NBA’s Race to the Playoffs. Go on. Acquaint yourself. It’s a mess. Particularly the Western Conference.  There are seven teams that could end up in the 8th spot, staring down the Lakers (we’re tossing out the Grizzlies, love them as I do. No way anyone’s going in the tank like they need them to). Denver, Dallas, Utah, Phoenix, San Antonio, OKC, Portland. Any one of them could wind up under the crosshairs of the defending champions.  One of the things Greg Popovich has talked about extensively is the imperative of avoiding that eighth seed, of not ending up in a tussle with LA in the first round. It’s a fairly easy idea. Try and avoid the best team as long as possible, hope someone else does the dirty work for you, hope they get tired, hope they get banged up, go as far as you can, get as much playoff money as you can, stay away from the big, bad Lakers.  And pardon me if I sound like Owen Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums (“What this book presupposes is… ‘What if he didn’t?'”), but I do keep having the same thought. Isn’t it better to get LA sooner rather than later?

From the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog: Looking ahead to the remaining schedule, Lakers center Andrew Bynum shared two weeks ago that the team should aim to end the regular season with 60 victories. Back then, the Lakers were just beginning what would be a seven-game winning streak and the team had brainstormed ways to build momentum to ensure sharpness entering the postseason. Naturally, winning came to mind. Lakers forward Ron Artest chalked an even more ambitious goal, trying to win out all the remaining games. Even if that didn’t happen, the Lakers (54-19) are well within that 60-win plateau with nine games remaining. Of course, even the Lakers’ recent six-game winning streak was met with justifiable shrugs among the team and media mainly because five of the opponents were sub.-500 teams and none of the wins featured sharp play.

From the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog: Has Phil Jackson lost control of the Lakers? Uh, no. The Lakers coach opined after Friday’s lopsided loss in Oklahoma City that the way players responded to his coaching would factor into his decision whether to return next season. Lamar Odom laughed at the notion that Jackson had somehow lost the players. “I don’t think that’s the case