Today, the conjectural March toward the playoffs begins. When the NBA first released the schedule, I scanned it loosely until I got to this month, March, where that little @ symbol appeared at a higher rate than it did any other month. Over 73 percent of the Lakers games are going to be on the road this month (11 of 15 games), and of those 11 games, nine of the teams are still in playoff contention. There will be two back-to-backs, two three-game road trips and they’ll finish off the month at San Antonio, at Oklahoma City, at Houston, at New Orleans and finally at Atlanta. Suffice to say, gaining home court throughout the playoffs is not going to be easy, and, with Dallas only 5 1/2 games back, playing extremely well, a number one seed in the Western Conference isn’t exactly locked up either.
So today, the Lakers begin their toughest month of the season, the one, more than any other, that will let us know if the team is championship ready, against the Indiana Pacers. During this time of year in the past, the Lakers have shown the propensity to look past lesser teams, which is why tonight’s game is just as important as their Sunday meeting with Orlando. The Lakers aren’t going to have too many gimmies, and are going to have to play these teams like they’re playing playoff contenders. They have some offensive kinks to work out, Kobe has to get back into his shooting rhythm, the bigs need to find a way to work together the way they did while Kobe was hurt and the bench needs to play with some consistency. These things do not improve when you take nights off against teams like the Pacers.
The Lakers practiced yesterday, and Kobe was able to get some work in on his jump shot. After practice he was interviewed about his off shot:
“What’s going on with your j right now? Is a little out of whack?” a reporter asked.
“Three for 3 for 17, I would say it’s a little (messed) up,” Bryant said laughingly. “But I had a lot of time off, where I wasn’t able to shoot the basketball and that’s why I haven’t been consistent. I haven’t had a chance to work on it. I did a little bit today and will do more tomorrow and hopefull get it back to that level of consistency that I’m used to.”
Bryant did get some work in on his shot after practice, taking turns going one-one-one against two young sons of a friend. At one point, he posted up the older kid, whose curly head barely reached Bryant’s shoulder.
“No mercy,” Bryant said, evoking laughter from the media. “There’s nothing wrong with posting up a little kid. He wanted to play one on one, (so) he knew full well what he was getting into.”
(Note: Kobe didn’t use the word “messed” in the interview and one of the kids who he played one-on-one against had one of their shots blocked into a wall, or at least that’s what I’ve heard through twitter.)
The Los Angeles Times has some updates on both Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton’s injuries:
Sasha Vujacic, who has been out because of a sprained right shoulder, has been unable to practice, but said he hopes to be available next Monday after the Lakers return home from a three-game trip.
Luke Walton, who has been out because of a pinched nerve in his back, worked out on an exercise machine Monday and said his back felt good, but that “good is a relative term right now.”
Land O’ Lakers has post-practice interviews with Phil Jackson where he talks about the Lakers lack of execution in the first half against Denver, Ron Artest on the defensive end, their decision to move Kobe into the post in the second half and more.
Yesterday, a lot of you were asking if Michael Finley could be a viable option as a pickup for the Lakers. Well, it’s been reported that the Celtics are interested in picking up the 36-year-old Finley (in attempts to get younger, I’m sure). Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub and Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell talk about Finley’s decreased role and why the Spurs released him. After reading it, you’ll understand why the Lakers showed no interest in Finley.
CelticsHub: Finley has barely played this season after playing 81 games last season and more than half of San Antonio’s minutes. Have his physical skills declined that much, or is the lack of PT more about the emergence of George Hill and the trade for Richard Jefferson?
48 Minutes of Hell: Although we do have some new faces in the backcourt, I think the biggest factor in Finley’s decreased minutes is his physical decline. Popovich has nothing but glowing things to say about Finley and is well known for sticking with veteran guys who have mastered this system (which Finley has) for longer than he arguably should. If Popovich thought Finley still had it in him, he’d have seen meaningful minutes.
There wasn’t too much Lakers news from yesterday. Be sure to check back later for Darius’ Lakers/Pacers Preview and Chat.