Archives For March 2010

[picappgallerysingle id=”3568523″]
Records: Lakers 52-18 (1st in West), Spurs 42-27 (7th in West, 7.5 games behind Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (11th in NBA), Spurs 107.3 (9th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100.2 (4th in NBA), Spurs 102.3 (9th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Spurs: George Hill, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess

The Lakers Coming in:  Can the winning streak continue against good teams?  That is the question as the Lakers start their road trip tonight in San Antonio.  It won’t be easy with Bynum out, but the Lakers need to rally together and start to round into form for the playoffs.  After the Wizards game, Phil mentioned that he’d like to see a 5-0 road trip in order to build that momentum, but to also keep Denver and Dallas at bay.  However, since that time he’s backed off of those statements as both the Mavs and the Nuggs have had some missteps in their recent games that have created a bit more of a cushion for the Lakers in the standings.  Will the Lakers relax now that their coach has put the whip away or will they keep their focus?  That is the other question.  We’ll see tonight.

The Spurs Coming in:  The Spurs have won 9 of 12 games in March and seem to be finding their stride as the post season approaches.  However, if you look a bit closer at that record, you’ll see that the Spurs are beating bad teams and losing to good ones.  Their nine wins come against the likes of the Knicks, Clippers, T’Wolves, Hornets, and Warriors and their three losses were against the Cavs, Magic, and Hawks.  So, it’s tough to know how good this Spurs team is right now.  To their credit they did outlast the Thunder in OKC on Monday night, which is a quality win. (On a side note, yes, this is similar to what the Lakers have done lately.  So, this is a big game for both teams as both want to prove that their winning ways are not only the product of the schedule makers.)

Normally, when you talk about the Spurs the first names that come up are Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili.  Well, as we enter tonight’s contest, Parker is out injured with a broken finger on his shooting hand and Duncan, while playing solid ball, may finally be wearing down after carrying this team on his back all season.  That said, count Timmy out at your own peril.  That leaves Manu.  And he’s doing just fine, thank you, putting up great numbers of late and controlling games like the Manu of old.  Over his last five games, Ginobili has averaged 24 points and 5 assists with a TS% of 64%.  This includes a 38 point and 6 assist explosion against the Hawks where he buried 5 three pointers.  And speaking of the long ball, he’s shooting 45% from three for in March and 88% from the line.  To quote Kobe, that’s a bad man.

Spurs Blogs:  They have couple of quality sites: 48 Minutes of Hell and Pounding the Rock (which has been a very strong site for ages). You should check out both. 

Keys to game:  While missing Bynum will somewhat restrict the Lakers game plan, playing against the Spurs is nothing new for Phil Jackson’s Lakers.  These teams, directed by these coaches, have faced each other 3-4 times a year for almost a decade and there are no secrets between the teams.  That means that execution on the little things will be the difference in the game.   Can the Lakers protect the ball?  Will the Spurs be able to effectively slow the ball in transition?  Executing the game within the game will be key for both teams tonight.

One thing I’m interested in seeing tonight is who matches up with the red hot Ginobili.  Recently, Artest has covered the other team’s best wing player regardless of position.  He guarded Wade and Tyreke Evans even though they play shooting and point guard, respectively.  If that trend continues tonight, Ron will match up with Manu leaving Kobe on Jefferson.  So, if this is the case expect a slug fest between Ron and Manu where both players use their expertise in using angles to their advantage while also fighting to establish the position that they want to attack their opponent.  Both Manu and Ron love to use space to their advantage – Ron by crowding offensive players and Manu by using his step back moves and side step dribbles to cross up defenders – to rule over their opponent.  So whoever wins this battle within the match up will have the upper hand.  But Ron (or any other defender) won’t be going at Ginobili alone.  In the absence of Parker, Manu has taken up the mantle as the primary creator in P&R situations so our bigs will need to hedge on Manu while not over extending in a way that lets the Argentinian split the double team and get into the teeth of the defense.  Surround, corral, and then recover needs to be the theme when defending the P&R tonight.  Also, I mentioned above Manu’s accuracy from behind the arc.  Marking him behind the three point line will be a key tonight and the Lakers should be extra aware of his want to drive hard to his right and and then step back for the long jumper.

On offense, aggressive Kobe may be in the house tonight.  In the past, Kobe has relished facing the Spurs and has found a comfort zone in attacking San Antonio’s help schemes.  The Spurs are a defense that will give up the mid-range jumper as they prefer to chase teams off the three point line and then funnel penetration to Duncan who is an expert at contesting without fouling.  However, it just so happens that Kobe is king of mid-range and has hurt the Spurs game after game, year after year by using his one dribble pull up jumper as a key weapon against them.  Kobe’s making 45.5% of his two point jumpers from 10-23 feet and he’ll get plenty of chances at that exact shot tonight.  Also expect Kobe to go down to the low post on the weakside and try to punish whatever member of the Manu, Jefferson, Mason, Bogans quartet that is guarding him tonight. 

The other key to this game will be the performance of our third and fourth offensive threats against their’s.  If Kobe and Manu play close to a draw and Pau/Duncan do the same, the key will lie in who wins the offensive matcups of Artest/Odom vs. Hill/Jefferson.  Traditionally, the Spurs don’t really have a player that can guard LO as McDyess and Blair don’t have the size (Blair) or the foot speed (Dyess) to deal with our versatile lefty.  If Odom can secure defensive rebounds and push the ball against a transitioning Spurs defense, it will go a long way in not letting San Antonio’s defense get set and execute their half court D.  We also need Ron to continue to make his jumper and to use his strength advantage to earn trips to the foul line.  I’ve given up hope that Ron will show any improvement in his ability to finish efficiently in the paint, but if he’s not finishing nor getting to the FT line, it’s almost a waste of a possession.   As for Hill/Jefferson, we need Kobe (or Ron) to mark him well (especially on his penetration) and for our guards to slow down the ever improving second year player.  In Parker’s absence, Hill has really stepped up as a vialbe scoring option and is using some of Parker’s pattened moves by getting out in transition and finishing well in the lane.  At the end of the night, look at the plus/minus numbers for Odom and Hill and I bet they’ll tell a big part of the story of who won this game.

Where you can watch:  6:30pm start on KCAL and nationally on ESPN.  Also on ESPN Radio 710am

NBA: Lakers vs. Kings Mar 16

This morning, we turn our focus to the Spurs, who have been playing well as of late. They’re only 3-2 in their last five, but watching their last few games seems like they’re on a five game winning streak. I know they did not play well in Orlando, and lost to Atlanta, but Manu Ginobili has been playing like the old Manu and George Hill has been playing very well in place of the injured Tony Parker. Even though the Spurs have stuggled for much of this season against playoff caliber teams, tonight’s game against Tim Duncan and Co. will be no walk through the park as they have not lost in San Antonio since January 31st.

An early preview from Basket Blog: As has become typical of Gregg Popovich Spurs teams, the Silver and Black are picking up their play as the playoffs approach, even with starting point guard Tony Parker going on the shelf on March 6 with a hand injury, due to return in mid April. In fact, the Spurs have gone 9-3 in March* after a 6-5 February, their only three losses coming at Cleveland by two points, at Orlando and at Atlanta in overtime.?*This comes as no surprise, since the Spurs are the NBA’s best March team since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997, going 152-54 for a .738 winning percentage (L.A. is second at 134-69, .660).??In related news, Manu Ginobili has been playing like … a healthy Manu Ginobili, averaging 21.2 points and 5.7 assists while shooting 53 percent from the field and 45 percent from 3-point range in March. Throw in solid bench production, Tim Duncan’s consistency and an improving Richard Jefferson and the Spurs are dangerous. “(Ginobili’s improved play) helps a lot and I think their bench has been very successful,” said Jackson said after the team photo on Tuesday. “They had a game the other night against Golden State where (Tim) Duncan played 13 minutes and it was one of the highest scoring games they’ve ever had. It just says something about their bench coming to life and their players all supporting one another.”

Post-practice interviews on the Lakers issues and tonight’s game from Land O’ Lakers: Wednesday will feature the Lakers mano y’ mano with the Spurs, a showdown these squads have grown extraordinarily familiar with over the last 10-plus years. As Kobe Bryant noted, “We could run their plays and they could could run ours.” These battles have largely ended in the Larry O’Brien swapped back and forth between Kobe and Tim Duncan. The two haven’t just collected rings during the 2000’s, they’ve arguably been the two best players of the recent decade. I know I’d tab them as such. Still, The Big Fundamental, as his nickname implies, has never been the flashiest or most demonstrative of players, generally content to go about his business and film the occasional Adidas commercial. Even as a 12-time All-Star, Duncan’s low key persona has sometimes meant flying under the radar compared against other superstars. But Kobe’s not losing too much sleep a lunch pail persona has resulted in Timmy being somehow under-appreciated: “They already call him the greatest power forward of all time,” smiled Bryant. “How much more do you want? For that matter, Kobe’s playing no sad violins over the Spurs’ downward slide in the standings this season, despite having gone unhappily through a similar situation in 2006 and 2007. Asked what he felt for the Spurs’ plight, Kobe’s answer was fairly succinct: “Nothing.”

After Tonight’s game, the Spurs will play LeBron James and the Cavs. 48 Minutes of Hell talk about playing the league’s two best players back-to-back and the Kobe v. LeBron debate:

Texas is no stranger to intense debates, having long been the national hotbed for our public education system’s creationism vs. evolution discussion. Over the next few days a different sort of debate will play out in the AT&T Center, one that still challenges longstanding values and beliefs. Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, which one is the best player in the NBA? Ask Tim Duncan, who at one point in his career could make a pretty convincing argument for himself, and he’d probably answer Kobe on Wednesday and LeBron on Friday. As far as opponents go, the San Antonio Spurs will never face better players in consecutive games. And Texas may not ever again be privy to as heated a sports debate. For all the high-flying wings that have been built up as the next air apparent, from Grant Hill and Vince Carter to Tracy McGrady and Dwyane Wade, it’s been Kobe Bryant who has come closest to Michael Jordan. His career arch mirroring Jordan–transforming from high-flying scorer to coldblooded midrange tactician–Bryant has been mistakenly labeled at times as the greatest player throughout the past decade.

There was a bit of good news on Luke Walton’s progress reported yesterday, we learned that he is looking to be back with the team by April, and he practiced with the team yesterday. After practice, Ron Artest told reporters that he “wasn’t aware of the Lakers six-game winning streak” and told Bill Plaschke that Trevor Ariza was a better player than he and probably fit in better with the Lakers:

The long list of those who think the Lakers miss Trevor Ariza just increased by one. Even Ron Artest agrees? ”He’s a better player than me,” Artest said Tuesday. But Ron-Ron, nobody ever said he was better, we just said he was a better fit.” He’s a better player,” Artest repeated emphatically. “He’s won a ring, I haven’t. I can’t even compare to him. He’s a better player.” Artest also agrees, incidentally, with the part about Ariza being a better fit.” He probably is,” Artest said. “He’s a role player, a great role player. I haven’t been a role player. Many times I’ve had to carry the load, this is a different look for me.” It is this different look that has some of the Lakers covering their eyes. Entering the season’s final stretch, basketball’s wackiest star is performing his nuttiest act yet. Ron Artest is barely raising an eyebrow. He hasn’t figured out the flow of the Lakers offense this season, he has sometimes seemed a step slow on defense, and he’s made little impact on the team’s toughness. In a move engineered by the Buss family last summer, Artest was signed here from the Houston Rockets to replace Ariza, who then signed with Houston, after balking at the Lakers’ contract offer.

Finally, Kurt over at Pro Basketball Talk has the latest update on Phil Jackson’s contract negotiations with Jerry Buss:

Phil Jackson does not have a contract to coach the Lakers next year. That fact has led to a lot of speculation and talk — from a struggle for control within the Buss family to Jackson leaving Los Angeles to coach the Knicks next year.

Jerry Buss would like to remind you that last year at this time Jackson did not have a contract. Same with the year before that, Buss said in an interview with

We really want to get through the year and then take a deep breath and see where we are. If I were to go to Phil right now and say, “Will you coach next year?” he’d say, “Well, let’s wait until the end of the year and see how I feel.” So, I don’t think it causes any tension. I know I have to wait until season’s end before a discussion begins.


Whenever the Lakers have a couple days off in a row, I try use the break in the action to take a look around the league.  There are always some good stories brewing and as a fan of the game, I love to take  stock in what the other franchises are doing.  So, without further ado here is what I’ve noticed in the past few days when looking at the league…

*That sound you hear in the standings below the Lakers are teams jockeying for playoff positioning.  There’s only a one game difference between the 6th and 8th seeds and only a game and a half between 5th and 3rd in the Western playoff race.  And while the top three seeds are likely sewn up (the top records from the division winners earn those seeds and the divisions look pretty much locked up save for a battle between Utah and Denver), home court in the second round is definitely up for grabs amongst those top seeds.  Meanwhile at the bottom of the playoff standings, teams are trying to earn the right to avoid the Lakers in the first round.  The last two weeks of the regular season are always a great time to take a look around the league because even though teams tend to know if they’re going to make the playoffs, there’s still a ton of fight in them to set themselves with the best possible matchups to advance.

*Speaking of Western playoff teams, Dallas may have peaked a bit too early.  After running off 13 straight wins, they’ve now lost three of four.  And two of those three losses were blowouts suffered at the hands of the Knicks (yikes) and the Hornets.  As I pointed out the last time I spoke about the Mavs,  there were some metrics out there that didn’t buy into the Mavs being a true powerhouse (fair or not).  Now at this point, it’s not like I’m going to bury the Mavs – I still think they’re going to be a tough out in the post season.  However, if they continue to stumble down the stretch  I think it’s fair to question if playing so well in late February and early March benefitted them in any real way.  Don’t get me wrong, before their trade for Butler and Haywood, the Mavs were playing .500 ball and were in a malaise.  They needed a shake up or an infusion of new blood.  But it’s now, at this point in the season, we’re at a time where (I would think) they want to be playing their best ball. 

*A couple of teams that are playing some pretty good ball are in the East.  Fear the Deer, everyone.  The Bucks are on a roll and are now the team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs.  This team has taken on the mentality of their head coach (Skiles) and are playing hard nosed defense.  You add to that Andrew Bogut’s strong play and the reemergence of John Salmons as a perimeter threat, and you’ve got a team that will stop you defensively and then show an inside/outside game with their offense that is tough to slow down.  The other team that is making a push late in the season is Boston.  Before losing to the Jazz last night (no shame in that), the Celts had won four games in a row and have been showing some of that championship mettle and swagger that made them so imposing two seasons ago when they won the title.  Long ago buried by many a national pundit, the Celtics are climbing out of the dirt thrown on top of them in a manner that would make Beatrix Kiddo proud.  Sure, Boston is still (at least) a step behind Cleveland and Orlando as favorites to win the East.  And, they’ve also been swept by the Hawks this seaon.  But, when push comes to shove, they have the league’s top ranked defense and a veteran team that may have one last push in them.  (Now allow me to go wash my hands after typing complimentary things about the Celtics.)

*The big news around the league right now is that Warriors franchise is on the market.  Yes, the Warriors are for sale.  Anyone have a few hundred million lying around to help me buy them?  No?  Okay then, lets move on and take a closer look at all this.  The consistent rumor affloat is that Oracle kingpin Larry Ellison is the frontrunner to buy the team.  The rumors further say that he’ll look to bring in Jerry West to run the basketball operations.  Having Ellison and West on board would be a pretty good place to start in turning this franchise around.  You add Ellison’s wallet to West’s ability to create a winning atmosphere and then put it together with a pretty good roster and things could be looking up.  However, that’s a long way off and currently only a pipe dream (selling the team and bringing in a new front office will take time).  Right now, it’s still Cohan and Nellie (who is, for now,  still looking for those last few wins to become the NBA’s all time winningest coach) and D-league call ups (Reggie Williams!) putting up career highs every other night.

*But the Warriors are not alone when looking for some (potential) front office shakeups.  Have you been following what’s going on in Portland?  Their assistant GM was just fired for reasons that aren’t entirely clear (though there are theories).  And now, GM extraordinaire Kevin Pritchard may be out next.  Really?  Read what the link above says (more great work from Dave at Blazer’s Edge) and either feel bad for Portland or revel in the fact that a franchise that was touted as being an up and coming team that would one day soon be our chief rivals is (potentially) coming apart at the seams. 

*Finally, just 11 days ago, we faced off with the Suns.  And in that game Amar’e Stoudemire went off for 29 and 16 in a losing effort.  The Suns have not lost since – winning 5 straight games mostly on the back of STAT.  Why do I mention this now?  Only because I want to link to this (oh no, Anthony Tolliver).  That throwdown was even better than this Amar’e offering just a few weeks ago (sorry Richard Jefferson, I had to).  But Stoudemire’s dunk against Golden State, can’t ever top this ultimate victimization of a Warrior ever (boy, the Reign Man, wow).

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers

With the Lakers set to start their third road-trip of the month all of the Lakers chatter is about the Lakers’ next five games and the seven after that. It’s all about how the Lakers play going into the postseason and what this next slew of tough games can do for the collective mentality of the team. Also, Andrew Bynum’s Achilles injury is going to be on everyone’s mind as, once again, the Lakers are headed down the stretch of the regular season with their starting center in street clothes, nursing an injury, hoping to be full strength for the postseason.

From the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog (With post-practice interviews): With the Lakers embarking on a five-game trip beginning Wednesday against San Antonio, Coach Phil Jackson initially saw it as something that could “make or break” the team’s standings in the Western Conference. The Lakers had enjoyed remaining the top seed throughout the season, but three consecutive losses in early March further tightened the race among Denver, Dallas and Utah. Since then the Lakers (52-18) have reeled off six consecutive victories and have a pretty firm standing in the West, holding a five-game lead over the Nuggets (47-23), a five-and-a-half game cushion against the Mavericks (46-23) and a seven-game advantage over the Jazz (45-25). With Denver and Dallas losing Saturday to Milwaukee and Boston, respectively, Jackson shared Monday that he no longer feels this upcoming trip bears as much significance in the standings. After still expressing some frustration over the Lakers’ second-half letdown in their 99-92 victory Sunday against the Washington Wizards, Jackson is mindful his changed perspective could reduce the urgency the team could have during its trip. “I hope the players don’t take that as an [excuse],” said Jackson, who gave the team a day off from practice Monday partly to help conserve energy. “They know we really want to establish our road game, and we had a real good road record the last couple of years.”

From ESPN Los Angeles: The Eiger mountain located in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland, rises to an elevation of 13,025 feet. The first ascent of the Eiger was made on August 11, 1858. The north face of the Eiger (in German it is called Nordwand) was not climbed until 1938. It is one of the three great north faces of the Alps, rising 5,900 ft above the valley of Grindlewald. Since 1935, at least sixty-four climbers have died attempting to scale the north face, thus earning it the German nickname, Mordwand, or “death wall”. It is the ultimate test of skill and endurance. Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck, on February 13th, 2008, broke his own record, by soloing the north face in 2 hours, 47 minutes and 33 seconds. Beginning the weekend of April 16th-18th, the defending NBA World Champion Los Angeles Lakers will embark on what some may characterize as a similar daunting mission. They will begin (along with 15 other teams) the arduous climb to reach the top of the league’s ‘mountain’ and claim the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy and the rings that go with it. To reach the summit, a team must win 16 games and navigate past four opponents, some far more challenging than others. Only one team will survive and be successful.

From Silver Screen and Roll: With only 12 games remaining, the Los Angeles Lakers have definitely hit the home stretch of their regular season schedule.  Traditionally, the Lakers under Phil Jackson (those with championship aspirations at least) have closed the season with a flourish.  For example, the championship teams of Shaq and Kobe ended the season with records of 14-3 (99-00), 8-0 (00-01), and 8-3 (01-02).  Last year’s squad finished 7-1. But the record is just a by-product. What really goes on at the end of each regular season is a conscientious increase in effort level on the part of the team. The Lakers may not care about the regular season en masse, but they do care about the final 10 games or so, if only because a strong performance through those 10 games can help a team to peak throughout the playoffs.

From the Los Angeles Times: Less than a month from now, the playoffs will start and the Lakers will brace themselves to try to defend their NBA championship. But the road they must travel to a repeat will be difficult. That was a topic Lakers owner Jerry Buss and Coach Phil Jackson discussed Monday while the team picture was taken at the practice facility in El Segundo. Buss and Jackson recalled the challenge the Lakers faced when they were trying to win their third consecutive NBA championship in 2002. “We just talked about the time we went through the three toughest teams in the West in Portland, San Antonio and Sacramento one year,” Jackson said. “Somehow or another, it makes your team really prepped for a championship round.” The Lakers swept a loaded Portland team, 3-0, in the first round of the ’02 Western Conference playoffs. They defeated the Spurs in five games in the second round and had to go seven games to dispatch the Kings in the conference finals, winning Game 7 in overtime in Sacramento.

From Land O’ Lakers: In Sunday night’s 99-92 win over Washington at Staples, the Lakers led by 26 at halftime and so dominated play against a travesty of a mockery of a sham of an NBA team I was left wondering if the final 24 minutes were really necessary. Yes, apparently, they were, because the Lakers played with only passing interest in the third quarter, and none in the fourth as the Wizards outscored them 32-17 and cut the lead to eight with two minutes to play. The Lakers were never really going to lose, but as a disgusted Phil Jackson noted after the game, they cost themselves a chance to get starters much needed rest and bench players much needed burn. Though enormously frustrating to fans and deadline conscious sportswriters alike, this sort of thing has gone on most of the year. While the Lakers haven’t actually dropped many games to the sub.500 set they’ve consistently played down to the level of their competition. The players talk about the need to find consistency, play with urgency, put together four quarters of good basketball, and round into form before the playoffs. We do the same. Did they use their five game tuneup against some of the league’s worst teams effectively? Will they be able to build momentum on the upcoming five game roadie?

From’s Daily Dime: The reflex in Lakerland, where they’ve seen and done it all before, is to react to Andrew Bynum’s latest injury and eventual return by calling it a rerun. “We almost had the same kind of situation” last year, Phil Jackson said, alluding to the knee injury that sidelined Bynum from January until just before the start of the playoffs. The difference is that this time Bynum has been a more vital part of the Lakers than he has in the past. And there’s always a chance that this could be a replay of 2008, when Bynum was injured, projected to return for the playoffs and never did. While the Lakers have given a two-week estimate for Bynum to come back from a strained left Achilles tendon, Jackson admitted Sunday night that “we really have nothing definitive about it.” They only know that the tendon didn’t rupture. “We don’t know how this therapy’s going to come out,” Jackson said. And they don’t know what his conditioning level will be after an injury that restricts his initial workouts to jogging in a pool. From there it could take some time to get back to NBA basketball game speed. There are 3½ weeks and 11 games left in the Lakers’ regular season.

From Kurt over at Phil Jackson — he of the generally stoic reaction to questions — was genuinely relieved when he talked about it. So was Andrew Bynum. So was every Laker. This weekend they learned Bynum likely will be out for two weeks with a strained left Achilles tendon. The injury came just running up the court Friday night, then the tests came back over the weekend saying it was nothing too serious, he just needs a couple weeks off. Only in this case is losing your starting center for two weeks greeted with relief. With Bynum’s long history of serious injuries — not to mention slow recovery times — an injury to the Lakers center just a month before the start of the playoffs was a serious cause for concern. He missed 32 games last year and was not the same guy in the playoffs, he missed 46 the year before and never suited up in the post season. Just missing him for two weeks is not ideal, but it is far better than the worst-case scenario.

Finally, Pau Gasol was named Western Conference Player of the Week. There was a post at explaining how popular Kobe (along with Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur) is in Turkey. And Lakers Edge has a nice write up on 50 years of Lakers memories featuring some of our favorite moments, including a picture of Eddie Jones (my favorite Laker ever) laying in an easy deuce over Hakeem Olajuwon.

It’s Time To Step Up

Darius Soriano —  March 22, 2010

[picappgallerysingle id=”7626982″]
Having Andrew Bynum out is nothing new to the Lakers.  In January 2008 he injured his knee against Memphis and missed the remainder of the regular season and playoffs as the Lakers made their first trip to the Finals since 2004.  The following season, in some sort of cruel episode of deja vu, Bynum would again injure his knee against Memphis and miss a substantial amount of games – only this time he was able to return to the team and help them win the championship as a spot contributor all while dragging a bum wheel up and down the court.  So, when Bynum came up limping against Minnesota on Friday with a strained achilles tendon and a recovery timeline of at least a week (and likely more), the Lakers will shift back into a familiar mode of playing without its up and coming starting Center.

However, this season things are a bit different.  For one, it is expected that Bynum will be back sooner rather than later (knocking on wood).  For two, Bynum is a better player this year whose contributions are more valued and part of the winning structure of this team.  (For those that question this point, this season is the first since Bynum started to get regular minutes that he’s earned crunch time minutes – at times displacing Gasol late in close games.  In seasons past this part of the game was always Odom/Gasol time or even Kwame/Odom time, but this season ‘Drew has impressed enough that he’s gotten time in these situations.)  And third, this time the injury comes much later in the season with the Lakers only having 12 games left on their regular season schedule while also hitting a stretch of tough games that the team needs to win to secure the number one seed in the West and build some momentum going into the playoffs.

So, all of these factors conspire to create one line of thinking for the Lakers that are healthy enough to play – it’s time to step up.  As we all know, the Lakers are about to embark on a pretty tough road trip.  Five games in eight days against teams that are either trying to fine tune their games for long playoff runs or fighting tooth and nail to make the post season at all.  The only team that is clearly out of the playoffs that the Lakers will face is New Orleans, but even they are expecting the return of Chris Paul and want to use this last part of their schedule as a springboard into next season by winning games and evaluating how their talented PG’s play together.  So what does this mean for the Lakers?  To me it means that there needs to be a sense of urgency when playing this upcoming set of games.  It also means that while all players need to chip in and play good ball, there are four specific players that I think need to fill in the gaps while Bynum is out:

*Pau Gasol  needs to play the exact way that he’s been playing recently.  Against the Warriors, Kings, T’Wolves, and Wizards Pau has really raised his level of play and flourished on offense while rebounding well and playing good defense.  In three of those four games, Gasol has scored over 25 points, grabbed 12 or more rebounds, had at least 3 assists, and tallied a blocked shot in each contest.  That level of production will need to continue and he’ll need to do it while playing heavy minutes on the road – where fatigue sets in faster and easier.  Unlike last season, Gasol has played up and down and has suffered some injuries that have limited his minutes and his overall production.  But if the game against the Wizards is any indication, Pau will need to look back to last season and use those games as a template for what is needed from him.  He’ll need to play 40+ minutes and be the fulcrum of our triple post offense.  He’ll need to play strong and impose his game on the front courts that he’ll be facing.  No small feat considering he’ll face Duncan, Okafor, Chuck Hayes, and Al Horford on this trip – all players that play some very good post defense.  History says that Pau is up to the challenge.  Last season, Phil pushed Gasol hard and never let up on him offering only faint praise all while demanding and expecting strong performances nightly.  And Pau delivered.  Can he do the same on this trip?  He’ll need to (and I think he will).

*Lamar Odom is going to have to play the all around game that all his supporters cite when speaking of his value to the Lakers.  Last night against Washington, Odom didn’t score well, but he filled the boxscore in other categories and was the glue of our front court rotation.  Last season, when Bynum went down, Odom responded with what was arguably his best stretch of basketball in his entire career.  He had a slew of high double digit rebound games and contributed with deft passing and above average scoring for the Lakers.  Considering he’ll be facing off against David West, Josh Smith, Luis Scola, and Jeff Green on this trip, he’ll need to come close to replicating last season’s Bynum-less efforts on this roadie.  I know there are some that still question Odom’s mindset and wonder if he’ll ever be more than a talented tease.  I’m not one of those guys, but he’ll need to prove it again to me and to everyone else.  From an X’s and O’s perspcetive, one way to get Odom playing well is to let him have the ball in his hands more.  What I mean is that the Lakers need to let Odom be an offensive initiator and allow him to bring the ball up.  This takes Kobe and Fisher off the ball and allows them to get their shots within the offense more.  It also allows Odom to be more of a cutter and slasher in our sets because the player that makes the first pass is often the player that cuts hard through the lane after the initial entry.  Odom excels in this role because he is one of the better Lakers at finding creases in defenses while easily making catches and then either scoring or passing to another teammate.  But too often this season LO has not performed in this role because he’s shared the court with other ball dominant guards (namely Farmar and Brown).  Now that LO is in the starting line up, he can take on more responsibility in getting our offense organized, enabling him to be more involved from the outset of games.

*Josh Powell looks to be the back up front court player that will see his minutes increase the most with Bynum out.  And with that increase in his role, he’ll need to back up the faith that the coaches are showing him with actual production.  Powell is a true professional, and he’s going to get his chance to show that he can make shots when needed and rebound the ball the way that the team expects of its big men.  Essentially, Powell will have to provide more than just a warm body in the minutes that he’ll receive and do it playing both PF and C.  At this point, it’s obvious that the coaches think that that Powell can play some Center (at least against opponents that don’t feature a dominant post player).  And while Josh is undersized to play in the pivot, his offensive game is one that lends itself to success playing Center in our system.  Playing PF isn’t really that different than playing C and Josh will get plenty of chances to play pick and pop on both secondary fast break chances and within the Triangle in our sets that feature the pinch post and sideline P&R.  Powell will also get a lot of offensive rebounding opportunities as Gasol, Kobe, and LO get more attention in our half court sets.  I’m just looking for steady minutes and some good shooting from Powell.  I think he’s up to the task.

*Ron Artest is a guy that we have not needed much offense from this season.  Yes his outside shooting has been nice, but what he’s really been needed for is his lockdown defense on the wing.  Well now, with Bynum out, the Lakers will need Ron to perform on offense and take a more active role in scoring the ball.  Yesterday, in the Wizards game, Ron provided perfect example of what will be needed from him in the scoring department (tallying 16 points on 10 shots).  Against the Wiz, he hesitated less and was more aggressive and sought out his shooting opportunities.  He still took a few too many off balance leaners for my taste, but that is his game and if he’s feeling those shots, then by all means take them.  Even if he hasn’t discovered all the nuance of our sets, we need him comfortable on offense right now so I’m willing to live with some mistakes if he can find that comfort level.  But don’t let this talk of requiring more offense mask the fact that we will still need the defensive minded Artest on this trip.  On Ron’s menu is Kevin Durant, likely some minutes on both of Richard Jefferson and a red hot Ginobili, Joe Johnson (and probably some Josh Smith too), Kevin Martin (with a side of Trevor Ariza), and he’ll even see some minutes on David West.  It was not too long ago that Ron Artest was touted as one of the best two way players in the entire league.  With Bynum out, he’s going to get the chance to show that he’s still got some of that in him.

As I mentioned earlier, playing without ‘Drew is nothing new.  But the Lakers are now at a part of the season where the competition is fierce and their coach expects a lot from them.  In fact, Phil has said that while a 4-1 record on this road trip is “acceptable”, that record is “not what champions look for” and that he wants the team to go 5-0.  Lets see if the team can rise to the challenge in front of them and get the wins that their coach is expecting of them.



Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant both had very good nights in the Lakers 99-92 win over the Washington Wizards. Gasol finished with 28 and 12 to go along with three assists and a block. He was able to get to the line 14 times, making 12, putting pressure on the Wizards front line all night. Bryant scored 24 with three rebounds and four assists. The 24-3-4 seems like a rather mild Kobe-line, but 20 of those points came in the second quarter, when he outscored the Wizards by five himself.

From the Press Enterprise: The Lakers needed only about 5 ½ minutes of Kobe Bryant’s absolute best to give another shove to the stumbling Washington Wizards. Coach Phil Jackson will need a whole lot more out of Bryant and his teammates when they head out on a late-season trip that will provide the final big test of their fitness to defend their NBA title. Bryant scored 20 of his 24 points on a variety of jump shots during a dynamic second quarter, and Los Angeles sent the Wizards to their 11th straight loss, 99-92 on Sunday night. Pau Gasol had 28 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who won their sixth straight after a three-game skid. They had little trouble with woeful Washington in the first three quarters, jumping to a 26-point halftime lead after another memorable quarter by Bryant, who did all of his second-quarter scoring from at least 12 feet away, including three consecutive three-pointers in the final moments.

From the OC Register: Kobe Bryant wasn’t quite on target with his predicted NCAA Tournament winner, as Kansas fell in the second round. Bryant was much sharper doing what he does best Sunday night — making his own baskets. His second-quarter barrage spurred the Lakers to a 99-92 victory over the Washington Wizards at Staples Center. Bryant had 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the second quarter, when Washington as a team managed just 15 points on 7-of-19 shooting. The Lakers let up later but went into halftime with a 59-33 lead after the Wizards committed four consecutive turnovers without making a shot. Bryant hit three 3-pointers in that time. Bryant finished with 24 points, one shy of Alex English’s 25,613 for 12th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring chart. With starting center Andrew Bynum missing his first game because of a strained left Achilles’ tendon, the Lakers had little trouble running their offense through Pau Gasol (28 points) and Bryant.

From The Lakers Nation: On this Noche Latina at Staples, L.A.’s favorite Spanish representative, Pau Gasol, dominated quickly and accurately inside. Pau’s stroke of late has looked exceptionally smooth. He’s going at the basket strong, his mid-range jumper looks sharp as can be and even his free throws are finding their way into the hoop. Finishing the night off with 28 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and one block, Pau appears back to his usual, quiet dominating self. With the absence of Andrew for the next couple of weeks (hopefully no more than that), the quality of Pau’s time on the floor needs to be as efficient and pristine (minus the four turnovers) as it was tonight. Kobe Bryant, who for the last few games has taken on the role of facilitator, locked in offensively in the first half tonight. His 3-point shooting has been somewhat M.I.A. since his return from injury, but tonight he launched and hit three 3-pointers in a row without breaking a stride. With 24 points on 10-17 shooting, not to mention four assists and three rebounds, Kobe’s obviously aware of what he needs to contribute without another scorer like Andrew on the floor.


I’ll begin this section with Pau Gasol again. I’m not going to take anything away from his very complete game last night, but I would like to see him finish more of those shots around the rim when he is fouled. Like I said, he went to the line 14 times, and not one of those trips to the line was an And-1. I didn’t really start paying attention to this until the fourth quarter, so I’m not sure if he’s not keeping the ball high enough to where he’s not able to get a quality shot off when he’s fouled or if he was just being soft, but either way, I’d like to see him finish some of those plays with a bucket and a foul shot.

If there was an ugly portion of this post, it would be the fourth quarter where the Lakers put their collective games in cruise control and just played the time instead of the Wizards. The Wizards scored 92 points, 32 of which were scored in the fourth quarter. After taking a 26-point lead into the half, there was no reason this game should have finished under a 15-point difference. These are the kind of games the Lakers need to dominate from beginning to end instead of doing just enough to finish the game with a win.

From the OC Register: It makes sense that there is a post-championship hangover, because it’s human nature to relax after success. It also makes sense that a team so incapable of sustained greatness might just not be great, after all. Perhaps the Lakers will still get to the top floor, but they’re on such a slow-moving elevator that they’re beginning to wonder themselves if something is broken here. And Lamar Odom is the perfect poster boy for this season of confusion. Odom was the one to speak out angrily after the lethargic effort two weeks ago against Toronto, ripping his team for looking lax and standing soft. But Odom just a few days before that had sounded a positive note about the team’s identity being patience. And for months before that, Odom had laughed off the Lakers’ problems, cavalierly admitting the team was “playing with too much swag,” cockily suggesting a switch on the locker-room wall could be flipped to send in another gold trophy.

From the Los Angeles Daily News: Phil Jackson wasn’t happy Sunday night. Sure, the Lakers won their sixth consecutive game. No question, they outclassed the Washington Wizards for extended stretches en route to a 99-92 victory at Staples Center. Undoubtedly, they jogged to the finish line. “It was an awful second half,” said Jackson, the Lakers’ Hall of Fame coach. “There was no intensity. We didn’t play right. We didn’t play with a full functioning group of guys. Kobe (Bryant) took one shot in the second half, and that was it. “It just says something about our lack of intensity.” Jackson also said he “talked to the team about playing the right way” and he groused about their lack of efficiency offensively, adding, “The offense is really easy to run. You swing the basketball and change sides of the floor. “The offense stalls when there’s no rhythm.”

From the Los Angeles Times: He didn’t give an opening statement as he normally does after a game. Instead, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson plopped down in his chair, looked at the media assembled before him in the interview room and said: “Open for questions.” His team had just seen all but seven points of a 28-point third-quarter lead against the hapless Washington Wizards evaporate, the Lakers sleepwalking to a 99-92 victory Sunday night at Staples Center. When asked for his assessment of his team’s overall play against a Wizards team that has the fourth – worst record in the NBA, Jackson quickly and decisively lit into his team for its lackluster play after the Lakers opened a 65-37 lead early in the third quarter. “It was awful,” Jackson said. “It was an awful second half. “There was no intensity. We didn’t play right… We just didn’t play with a full functioning group of guys. ” Kobe [Bryant] took one shot [in the second half]. Made his shot [and] that was it. So we weren’t going to come out there and play with the kind of intensity you have to play with.”


Basket Blog has a running diary of last nights game with major plays by quarter with some analysis. The Los Angeles Times has post-game interviews from PJ, Gasol, Odom and Fisher. Land O’ Lakers has some game analysis and some post-game interviews, too.

From Silver Screen and Roll: Why does the NBA think slapping the word Los in front of a team name is the way to celebrate Noche Latina? It makes little sense. It’s not like the jerseys usually read “The Lakers,” so what’s with adding a definite article? And if “Lakers” doesn’t sound especially Spanish to you, it turns out you’re right. The translation (courtesy of PAGFL) is Lagoneros, which would actually look quite cool on an alternate jersey. Why not go that route? It would offer linguistic integrity and not look like something drawn up at Taco Bell corporate headquarters. That’s the most interesting discussion topic arising from tonight’s game, a 99 to 92 Lakers victory over the Wizards of Washington. A desperately boring affair this was, wrapping up four straight contests against the NBA’s great unwashed. The Wizards have little talent and even less motivation. They presented an opportunity for the Lakers to notch an easy win, pile up some stats and get used to playing without Andrew Bynum, and sure enough, that’s how it all went down.

From the Los Angeles Times: If it’s spring, the Lakers must be waiting for Andrew Bynum, as they’re now resigned to doing for the third season in a row. Who knows, maybe someday they’ll find him! As homestands go, this one was uneventful, give or take the loss of their 7-foot starting center. They ran their winning streak to six games, however unimpressively, blowing 21 points of their 28-point lead and beating the hapless Washington Wizards by just 99-92. Showing the urgency everyone realizes the Lakers need, the fans were on their feet in the closing minutes as the Wizards closed to within eight points, cheering for … tacos. The Lakers, themselves, have talked a lot recently about their lack of urgency. Sometimes they even played like they meant it, but just when they started making headway, especially on the key issue of Bynum and Pau Gasol playing together, there went half of the tandem.

Finally, from my new website, Momma There Goes That Man: We’re just under a month away from the playoffs and the Lakers are still one of the most banged up teams in the NBA. Kobe has his busted finger, Lamar Odom has his busted shoulder, for Bynum it’s his Achilles, Luke Walton’s back is damaged and Shannon Brown has hand problems – yet, they’re still on a six game winning streak and have extended their lead to five games over Denver and 5.5 games over Dallas for the top spot in the Western Conference. With the Lakers gearing for their third road trip of the month, I think it’s time for Phil Jackson to start playing with some of the rotations. For me, I think the Lakers have too much talent to not have at least three of their top six (Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Fish and Artest) on the floor at all times. I also feel that some players have better rhythms on the floor together than others. Remember that short stretch of basketball when both Kobe and Bynum were out with injuries? Do you remember how well Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol played together? How about when Pau Gasol was out to begin the season, remember how well Kobe and Bynum played together? I do. And I think this is something Phil Jackson can take advantage of.


[picappgallerysingle id=”8140849″]
What really needs to be said about this game?  Going in to this contest, I don’t think there was any doubt that the Lakers would win the game and do so handily.  The only question was, would the Lakers play just hard enough for just long enough that the game was close but never in question or would they outclass the Wiz and deliver a beat down that left no doubt about the outcome?  It turns out that we  got both of those games all in one.  The Lakers are generous that way.  They really want to give fans their money’s worth, I think.

Because as it turns out, the Lakers would only need to play twenty four engaged minutes to dispatch the Wizards 99-92 this evening.  A half of good basketball is all it would take.  After starting the game kind of slowly and only jumping out to a six point first quarter lead, the Lakers would turn it on in the second quarter and turn this game into a route by halftime.  And it was all fueled by Kobe in that second frame.  Mr. Bean would outscore the Wiz 20-15 all by himself in the second period and do so on an array of jumpers that reminded me of some of Kobe’s vintage performances of years past.  A triple head fake then turn around baseline jumper was followed by a pull up three pointer in transition.  Those shots were then followed by another pull up three over the top of Washinton’s zone defense.  And then another pull up three over the zone from the top of the key (after a couple of between the leg dribbles and a hesitation move to his left).  Then, just to show that those other long jumpers weren’t some sort of fluke, Kobe would hit another three off high handoff that served as a P&R when Kobe brushed off Pau’s shoulder, faded left, and then buried the J.  After Kobe’s barrage of long balls, the Lakers would close the second quarter on 13-0 run and lead by 26 at the half.

But Kobe wasn’t the only Laker playing well.  Gasol had quite a nice game himself too.  A tidy stat line of 28 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block by Gasol.  Maybe he was inspired by the fact that “Los Lakers” were wearing their “Noche Latina” inspired jerseys.  Or maybe his success was brought on by the fact that the Wiz couldn’t defend Pau without fouling and the big Spaniard would be money from the foul line by going 12-14.  Whatever the case, Pau was feeling his game and it showed when he was in the half court executing post ups and in the open court when he got out and ran the floor beautifully for easy finishes on the break.  This is the third very good game in a row for Pau and I think we can all pretty much agree that he’s now recovered from the slump that plagued him for a couple of weeks.  Sure, the opponents that he’s done this against aren’t the strongest, but the other side of that coin is the fact that Pau is a damned good player that is going to give almost every player he goes up against problems.  I mean, when Pau’s game is on he’s a load to handle by even the best defenders because his skill level is so high and is treasure trove of offensive moves is so divers.  So, it’s just nice to see Pau playing with a renewed confidence and that all facets of his versatile offensive game seem to be back.

However, as I mentioned, this game wouldn’t be the complete demolition that the first half performance set up.  As has been the norm for a lot of games this season, the Lakers’ large lead was proceeded by a level of play that looked like they were disinterested. This then allowed the Wizards to slowly chip away at the lead.  The Lakers were (seemingly) just content to trade baskets or give up two baskets while only getting back one for the remainder of the game.  Simply put, the Lakers played with the same amount of energy that the fans at Staples and at home had while watching the second half of this game.  I can’t say I blame them though.  This game, despite how close it got, was never in doubt.  Whenever Washington would make a mini-run, the Lakers would respond with another three point shot or an easy bucket in the half court that would force Flip Saunders to call another timeout.

But in the end, the Lakers questionable ability to hold a lead against a team like the Wizards really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that the Lakers got through another game against a poor opponent with another win and set themselves up with some momentum going into their road trip.  Games like this matter only for what column they end up in and with this one falling squarely on the “W” side, that is enough for me.  A few other notes on this game:

*With Bynum out, it’s important that we get some good scoring contributions from other guys.  Sixteen points from Ron Artest and thirteen from Shannon Brown are a good place to start.  Artest, especially, seemed to find his groove on offense against the Wiz.  While I’m not sure if we can count on Ron consistently making step back jumpers, it was nice to see him take shots with confidence and without the hesitation that he’s shown on offense recently.

*In his first start since Kobe was out injured, Odom had a nice, well rounded game.  While he only had four points, LO had 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks.  He again showed that a player can have a big impact on a game without putting points on the board.  LO was in full distributor mode and was intent on setting up his mates while playing strong defense.  While there will be games in the future where we need more scoring from Odom, tonight all we needed was what he gave us.

*9-17; 52.9%.  That was what the Lakers did from behind the three point line against the Wiz.  Performances like that are few and far between from the Lakers so it deserves some recognition.  Powered by Kobe’s 4-7 and Shannon’s 3-4, the Lakers were hot from behind the arc.  And even though the Lakers won’t shoot this well consistently, it was really nice to see the long ball falling (even when some of the shots were forced or heat checks from our two shooting guards).

[picappgallerysingle id=”7673539″]
Records: Lakers 51-18 (1st in West), Wizards 21-46 (14th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.1 (10th in NBA), Wizards 104.1 (24th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.7 (5th in NBA), Wizards 109.2 (18th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Wizards: Shaun Livingston, Mike Miller, Al Thornton, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee

The Lakers Coming in:  By now, you’ve all heard or read that Andrew Bynum’s achilles injury is not a tear or rupture and that he’s out at least a week and likely two.  So the Lakers must now play today’s game and at least a few others without their starting Center.  Sadly for Bynum and the Lakers, this is nothing new and is really becoming a yearly occurrence.  Just as in season’s past, the Lakers will move Lamar into the starting lineup and make adjustments to the players’ minutes allocation and rotations from there.

The News on the Lakers as a whole, though, is much better than the news that their young Center received.  The team has won five games in a row and is starting to play better basketball on offense (something that has been up and down all season) and seem to be narrowing their focus as the post season approaches.  To a man, I think every member of the team is excited about this closing stretch of games and are looking to find a rhythm in order to successfully defend their title.  We’ve been talking all season how Phil likes to have his teams peak at the right time and how no coach (save maybe Popovich) has a better sense of how to prepare a team for the playoffs over a long regular season.  So, as the this first stretch of 82 games is coming to a close, I think we’ll start to see an even more engaged Phil and a responsive set of players who will start to show that they are rounding into form for the second season.

The Wizards Coming in:  The Wiz are a mess.  They’ve lost 10 games in a row and 12 of their last 13.  And while it would be nice to say that this recent stretch of futility is a fluke, it’s not.  The Wizards have been bad all season and as the end of the season approaches it’s only getting worse.  There’s just been too much to overcome this season for Washington.  There was early season injury to Jamson that disrupted the team’s rhythm under new coach Flip Saunders,  then there was the death of owner Abe Pollin, then we all know how the Arenas/guns saga (and the resulting suspensions to Agent 0 and former Lakers Javaris Crittenton) affected this team, and most recently the trades that sent Jamison/Butler/Haywood to other cities and ultimately left the Wiz a shell of the team that many thought would compete for a top 5 seed in the Eastern Playoffs this season.  Ultimately, from an organizational perspective, this has been a sad, sad season that doesn’t have a lot of progress to show for the suffering that the team, its players, and its fan base has endured.

However, most recently there are two stories that have developed into positives for the Wizards.  First is the development of Andray Blatche.  Long considered a tremendous talent that couldn’t put it all together, Blatche has really stepped up his game since the trade of Jamison.  Maybe all he needed was consistent playing time or long minutes, but now that he’s in the starting line up he’s producing numbers that are eye opening (over 21 points and around 9 rebounds a game) and have me checking boxscores whenever the Wiz play.  The other feel good story for Washington is the recent pick up of Shaun Livingston.  As LA fans, we all know the history of this once promising young player and the horrific knee injury that seemingly sapped all that potential away.  But, after being released by the Thunder earlier this season, Livingston has latched on with the Wiz and is making the most of the chance that he’s been given.  His 10 day contract was recently extended to last through the end of the year and he’s now starting for Washington at point guard.  Livingston is a player that I’ve always rooted for, so it’s nice to see him playing ball and continuing the dream of playing in the league.

Wizards Blogs:  Check out Truth About It and Bullets Forever.  They’re both very good sites to keep up on the latest happenings of the Wiz.

Keys to game:  The Lakers are facing another bad team this evening so they should have no issues imposing their will on Washington.  Sure, missing Bynum will hurt some, but it’s not like the Lakers don’t have a ton of talent at the other positions to make up for Andrew’s absence – especially against a team like the Wizars.

What I hope to see tonight is more fluid offense from the Lakers.  In recent weeks, we’ve all seen a higher comfort level between Bynum and Gasol when they’ve been paired together on offense.  However, that chemistry still pales in comparison to what Gasol and Odom have exhibited when they’ve shared the front court.   So, I hope to see better spacing on offense in general and specifically more two man game between our bigs.  We should be going into Pau early on offense and with that see more cutting and passing with Odom being a dive man after initiating our sets.  I also think we’ll see a lot of Kobe breaking down Mike Miller from both the wing and the post.  Just because Bynum is out doesn’t mean our post offense suffers it just means it takes on a different face as there will be less power finishes but more passing and activity from the players playing off the ball.

On defense, stopping the Wizards means paying attention to four players – Blatche, Mike Miller, Al Thornton and Foye.  As mentioned earlier, Blatche is a tremendous talent and an all court player.  He’s got a good enough jumpshot and great turn & face game that he uses to attack the basket off the dribble.  Odom is going to have his hands full tonight, but LO is the exact type of player and defender that can give Blatche problems.  Shade Blatche to his left hand and if need be collapse on him when he makes his move to make him a passer in traffic in order to force turnovers.  Dealing with Miller will mean marking him around the three point line but also being aware that he’s taken on a play making role for the Wizards this season.  Miller is an underrated passer and a better creator off the dribble than he’s given credit for.  That said, Kobe should be familiar with Miller from their time together on Team USA and should know what Mike is capable of.  As for Thornton and Foye, they’re very similar players only playing different positions.  Both are attack players that have decent jumpshots but would rather go to the basket.  Thornton operates best in isolation while Foye is a good P&R player, so guarding them effectively in those scenarios will be key to limiting their efficiency.

Looking more marco and from a team standpoint, one thing that Washington does do well is crash the offensive glass.  They’re 9th in offensive rebounding rate and will generate extra possessions by hitting the offensive glass hard with both Blatche and McGee (two ‘plus’ athletes).  So, find those two players and body them up when the shot goes up.  If the Lakers can control them on the offensive glass and make this team shoot from the outside (save Miller, who we want to drive into traffic) this should be another (relatively) easy win where the Lakers aren’t pushed too much throughout the course of the game.  The Lakers have more talent at every position and should control this game from the outset.  That said, don’t be surprised if the game is closer than what you expect just because (like Minnesota) the Lakers don’t always play their most inspired ball when the opponent isn’t a true threat.  I know we’d all like that to be different, but this is the team we root for.  I’m just saying.

Where you can watch:  6:30pm start time out west on Fox Sports West, also on ESPN Radio 710am.