Archives For March 2010

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According the fantastic Kevin Ding and his magical twitter account, the MRI performed on Andrew Bynum’s strained (left) achilles tendon showed no rupture or tear.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that Ding also confirmed that Andrew will be reevaluated a week from now and that he (likely) will not travel with the team won’t play (but will travel) on its upcoming gauntlet of a road trip (meaning he’ll miss the next six games).  The trip that has the Lakers visiting the Spurs, Thunder, Rockets, Hornets, and Hawks.  Not a soft team in that bunch (New Orleans is likely to have Chris Paul back by that game) and the games come a crucial time in the season with the Lakers not only trying to hold off Dallas and Denver for the Western Conference’s #1 seed, but also hoping to build momentum for a long post season run.

We’ll have more analysis on what missing Bynum will mean in the next couple of days, but my first thought is that this could actually serve as motivation for the Lakers.  I know that when Bynum went down last night, the Lakers immediately gave up their ten point lead and looked like they weren’t into the action much.  That’s what can happen when you see a teammate injured in the heat of battle.  However, now the team has some time to process the injury it could establish a bunker mentality with the guys that are healthy and bring them closer together as they go on this trip.  What we could see is similar to what happened two seasons ago when Bynum got injured (but before Pau came on board) – the Lakers rallying together on the road and playing some of their best ball of the season.  I’m not saying this will happen, but on a team with veteran leadership and (even without Bynum) a load of talent, I would not be surprised to see this team close ranks, circle the wagons, and play good basketball.

At this point, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that this injury was not worse.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only person that had a sinking feeling when I saw ‘Drew limp off the court and go directly to the locker room.  Especially after the last two seasons and how it seemed that whenever Bynum started to play his best ball an injury would ruin it.  So, again, I’m glad that the news isn’t worse and that Bynum seems to be in good spirits and in the mindset to get back on the court sooner rather than later (though doing so when he’s ready).  Get well soon big fella, we’re going to need you.

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The big story from this game was the fact that in the middle of the ‘Wolves third quarter run (more on that later) Andrew Bynum jumped for a rebound, was a bit stiff after he landed, and left the game not to return.  Reportedly, he has a strained left achilles tendon and will be reevaluated tomorrow.  Obviously, we all hope for the best with this latest set back for big ‘Drew as he was once again starting to turn the corner with his play, even earning praise from Phil Jackson before the game for his improved play, conditioning, and better health of late.  A “strain” is not typically a major injury (though, I’m no doctor), and I would hope that he’s day to day.  But with a game on Sunday and then a pretty important road trip coming up the Lakers can ill afford for ‘Drew to miss too much (if any) time.  I’d happily take a missed game on Sunday for a healthy ‘Drew on the upcoming roadie.  We’ll update the site as we get more info.  Now, back to the recap.

The Lakers won.  The end.

Oh, you want more than that?  Well then, the Lakers played the type of game we’ve come to expect from them when they play a team like Minnesota.  When the Lakers don’t feel threatened in a game or feel like they can’t really lose to a team, they let their guard down.  They let lesser opponents hang around and stay within striking distance, because in the end their talent will win out.  And that is exactly what happened tonight.

The game started with Kobe in a passing mode as he racked up 7 assists in the first quarter and 9 total in the first half (he’d finish the game with a season high 13).  He passed willingly and created easy buckets for his teammates – feeding Pau and Bynum for dunks and layups, hitting Ron for open jumpers, and feeding Fisher for…never mind.  One play in particular that stood out was a classic “showtime” fast break with Farmar and Kobe running a two on one with Kobe eventually making a wrap around pass to a trailing Gasol who proceeded put Darko on a poster.  This game was looking like a rout in the making as Minny showed that they are in fact not very good and the Lakers talent was obviously several levels above.  A ten point half time lead only seemed like the beginning.

But in all to familiar fashion, the Lakers gave back the lead in the third quarter.  They relaxed on defense, didn’t care to even try to execute on offense, and watched as the ‘Wolves took a two point lead.  Time out Phil Jackson.  What then proceeded is what you’d expect when the defending champs face one of the worst teams in the league.  The Lakers picked up their defense, Minnesota committed several bad turnovers in a row, and the Lakers closed the third quarter on a 12-0 run that recaptured their ten point halftime lead.  And in the fourth quarter, the Lakers would do just enough to keep their lead in the seven to ten range and would make the plays that they needed to when they needed in order to pull out the win.

A perfectly uninspiring game on a Friday night in Los Angeles against one of the worst teams in the league.  If this game wasn’t pretty much a guaranteed win before the game started, I might feel different about this one.  What with the mid game struggles, Fisher not making a single shot in six tries, and the Lakers not rebounding on the defensive glass the way they needed to. But in a contest where Kobe was attempting behind the back passes with the same frequency that he normally shoots fade away jumpers and Odom taking (and making) more three pointers in a single game than he’s taken in his past seven games combined, I’ll take the results and move on. I mean, this was a game that was pretty lifeless for most of the contest with little to no excitement and not much action to keep the crowd into the game. I think the presence of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes caused more of a stir than any thing that went on during the game, save for (maybe) the aforementioned Pau dunk on Darko. So, ring up win number 51 and lets get ready for the Wizards on Sunday. And for now, think happy thoughts for Drew and enjoy the college hoops on tomorrow.

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Records: Lakers 50-18 (1st in West), T’Wolves 14-55 (Last in West, 36.5 games behind Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.1 (10th in NBA), T’Wolves 101.4 (29th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.8 (4th in NBA), T’Wolves 111.0 (28th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
T’Wolves: Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes, Al Jefferson, Darko Milicic

How’s your bracket doing?:  Mine is busted.  As a matter of fact, mine was never even fully formed to begin with.  Let’s just say I didn’t save my work when I made my picks and I had a bunch of unassigned picks.  Now, I’m sitting there with a bunch of red on my bracket and it looks quite ugly.  So, my goal to not come in last in the FB&G pool is pretty much dead in the water.  I did pick St. Mary’s though.

A fun fact about the Lakers and the NCAA tourney – only Shannon (Michigan St.) and Ammo (Gonzaga) are alumni of schools that actually made the tournament.  I don’t have any figures to support this, but that’s got to be a leauge low.  On a side note to this, The Lakers have 5 players that didn’t even attend college in the US – Kobe, Sasha, Pau, Bynum, and Mbenga.  Who do you think would win in a matchup of that “non-college” team vs. the “went to college” team if they scrimmaged in practice?  I would have to say that any team with Kobe, Pau, and Bynum would win just by dominating the inside.  On the other hand, they’d be slow in transition defense and probably terrible covering the P&R.  In the end, just like when filling out his bracket, Kobe would probably cheat to win.

The T’Wolves Coming in:  Minnesota is a bad team.  There’s just no getting around that.  They’ve got the second worst record in the league, ranking second to last in offense and third from the bottom in defense.  And even though coming into this season many understood that Minnesota was rebuilding and that patience would be required with this team, that doesn’t change the fact that this team is losing a lot of games and are on pace to be even worse, record wise, than last season.  The guys who are taking the most heat for this are GM David Kahn, and head coach Kurt Rambis.  Kahn for his drafting (Rubio is still, probably, 2 seasons away from joining the team and Flynn is probably the 4 best PG taken in that draft while being the 3rd taken – after Tyreke and Rubio) and Rambis for some questionable decisions with his rotations – espcecially how he’s utilizing Kevin Love (who is not starting, and even when Jefferson was out with injury did not start). 

But all is not awful for the ‘Wolves.  They do have Al Jefferson who, despite not being 100% recovered from his knee injury from last season, has shown flashes of his old self.  And they also have some young players that are improving (Corey Brewer) and others that are finding their way in this league despite being thrown into the fire (Flynn).  Is that enough for the fans of ‘Sota?  At this point, it will have to be because there aren’t too many other positives for this organization right now.  Especially when the team has lost 17 of 18 games.  Yikes.

T’Wolves Blogs:  Check out Howlin’ T-Wolf and Canis Hoopus for all the latest news and notes on the team from the land of 1,000 lakes.

Keys to game:  When the team you’re facing struggles to score and also struggles to defend, the game plan for the defending NBA champions is really quite simple: play your normal game.  Minnesota doesn’t have the individual talent to contain the Lakers in one on one matchups nor the team structure/schemes to slow them down as a unit.  So, on offense, attack Minnesota inside and make their big men (especially Jefferson and Love) defend the paint.  Both of those players are sub-par on that side of the ball and they will not be able to handle the Lakers bigs.  We should see stat lines from Bynum and Gasol similar to the ones that they put up against Golden State and Sacramento.  Be patient wit the ball and attack them inside out.  The one player that can defend some is Darko Milicic, who was recently acquired via trade with the Knicks (Darko has been playing better of late, too).  So, I am anxious to see how he does against our twin towers and if things go poorly for him, there’s always the chance we could see this again.  That’d be tremendous.

On defense, the Lakers are going up against a team that runs the same offensive system that they do (supposedly) so there should be some familiarity in what the ‘Wolves are doing on that side of the ball.  That said, there are specific things that the Lakers should look out for that vary from the typical Triangle actions.  One is the high P&R between Flynn and Jefferson.  Flynn is an explosive player that can turn the corner and finish in the paint.  While he’s not as big nor as strong as Tyreke Evans, they are similar types of players so the Lakers must make him an outside shooter and deny his penetration.  Another key to holding down Minnesota’s offense is to contain Al Jefferson.  As I mentioned earlier, he’s still finding his stride after he blew out his knee last year, but he’s a dangerous player on the low block with an array of hooks, feints, and up and under moves that can make even the most solid of post defenders look silly.  So, body up Big Al, make him go to his left hand by turning over his right shoulder and respect his jump hook all the way out to 12 feet.  Al’s not the biggest or most athletic player so Bynum and Gasol need to stand their ground and make him finish over the top of their extended arms. 

Besides Flynn and Jefferson, mark Kevin Love on the offensive glass.  Love, despite his lack of jumping ability is a wide body that has trendous instincts for rebounding the basketball – especially on offense.  He finds the little cracks and crevices in a team’s half court defense and then moves bodies to secure the ball.  Sure, ‘Drew and Pau will have the reach advantage against Love, but he will move them under the hoop and make them put a body on him.  And since straight up box outs are not a strength of our bigs, this could be a problem.  If our bigs gang rebound tonight, we should be fine, but keep an eye on Love.  Finally, the ‘Wolves play at the third fastest pace in the leauge.  Spurred on by the defensive rebounding and outlet passing of Love and Jefferson, this team will push the ball and attack when fast break opportunities present themselves.  Believe me, Derek Fisher remembers what this team can do in the open court.  We don’t want to see any more of that (well, unless it’s a blowout – then a highlight play is always fun). 

In the end, there will be no excuses if the Lakers lose this game.  I don’t care if Rambis knows all of our secrets and has individual game plans for each of our players.  The ‘Wolves are not a good team.  A win should be coming as the Lakers hope to continue to build momentum down the final stretch.  I’ll leave the final word to commenter lil’ pau, who is also looking big picture and playoff positioning:

Lakers have to win tonight and Sunday. That would put them at 52-18 and 4 up (at least) in the loss column over DAL and DEN. Even assuming they lose HCA to both teams, that would mean they would clinch the west going 9-3, 8-4 would mean DAL or DEN would have to win out, and 7-5 would mean that Dallas would have to go 13-1 or Den 12-1. I know the Lakers have a brutal roadtrip ahead, but I don’t credibly see them playing only .500 ball over their last 12.

Where you can watch:  7:30 start time out west on Fox Sports West, also on ESPN Radio 710am.

USA TODAY Hollywood Hero Honoring Magic Johnson

Tonight, the Lakers play host to the Minnesota Timberwolves and their old friend Kurt Rambis. Rambis has been trying to bring some of his old Laker values with him to Minnesota, most notably, the triangle offense, which SLAM notes that the ‘Wolves have struggled with mightily.

With just about a month left to go in the NBA season, the Timberwolves stand at 14-53. Yes, that’s good enough for last place in the Western Conference. Their struggles with the Triangle were evident Sunday night in a loss visiting the Sacramento Kings.

“They need to slow down,” a Los Angeles Lakers scout in attendance said of the Wolves offensive execution. “(As a young team), they have a tendency to rush the offense.”

Patience is key when running a methodical system like the Triangle. With a group of youngsters who are at their best on the run, waiting for an offense to develop in a 24-second-shot-clock League can be difficult.

But the difficulty differs, depending on who you’re talking to.

In his mind, sophomore big man Kevin Love hasn’t had any issues transitioning into the Timberwolves’ new offense in his second NBA season. As a power forward, his responsibilities in the Triangle, he believes, are simple.

“You just need to kind of find out where you fit,” Love said. “For the big men, we just need to pick our spots and need to pick apart the defense on the (offensive) end.”

Mike Bresahan of the Los Angeles Times named tonight’s game against the Timberwolves the Game of the Week because of “The Rambis Factor.”

I know, I know. Lakers-Timberwolves is the game of the week?

The opponents are pretty weak this week — Golden State on Monday, Sacramento on Tuesday and Minnesota tonight — so why choose the Timberwolves?

The Kurt Rambis factor.

Few people know the Lakers better than Rambis, who was hired by the Timberwolves last August after 10 seasons as a Lakers assistant.

The Minnesota coach made his old team work hard for a 104-92 victory in December, packing the lane and daring the Lakers to score from outside, which they did…eventually…sort of.

That’s why I’m thinking tonight’s game will be close. Besides, this is the Lakers. They don’t blow anybody out.

The Los Angeles Times’ Lakers Blog has a few noteworthy posts on what the Lakers have improved on in their last few games and some practice reports:

On Gasol missing practice: Lakers foward Pau Gasol missed Thursday’s practice because of tonsilitis and is listed as day-to-day. Gasol, averaging 17.3 points and 11 rebounds a game, might be a game-time decision for Friday’s game against Minnesota. Derek Fisher did not practice because of what Coach Phil Jackson called an injury in the “groin/hip area.” Fisher is expected to play against Minnesota

On Lakers improvements: Among the highlights: — After going through a rough stretch during the team’s three-game losing streak, Gasol has responded with improved play in the last three games. In those contests, he’s averaged 23 points and about 10 rebounds, two blocks and one turnover a game. Sure his free-throw shooting as of late could improve (six of 10 against Golden State, one of five against Phoenix), but he no longer looks like the “sickly” player as Coach Phil Jackson described of him during the team’s three-game trip two weeks ago. Also, he shown an ability to play tougher, as evidenced by his hard foul against Phoenix center Louis Amundson. — Center Andrew Bynum’s play has improved at the same time, proving that, yes, it is indeed possible for  Gasol and Bynum to be productive on the floor at the same time. Their inside dominance has been a thing of beauty lately, with Bynum using his presence to his advantage and Gasol complementing that with his finesse. The two combined for 49 points against Sacramento, 45 points against Golden State and 33 points against Phoenix. Bynum’s 22 points on eight-of-12 shooting against Toronto came after an ineffective five points against Orlando. But he recently pointed to his turnaround in the Magic game, where he learned from his matchup with Orlando Center Dwight Howard. — Team balance has been apparent in its games against Phoenix, Golden State and Sacramento. All five starters cracked double digits against the Suns.

The Lakers post-practice report (complete with video interviews): Lakers guard Kobe Bryant acknowledged the opponents the team faces this weekend aren’t the most threatening. The Lakers play Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves (14-55), who have lost 11 consecutive games and have remained at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. The Lakers follow with a home game Sunday against the Washington Wizards (21-45), who have dealt with several issues this season, including the suspension of Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton for their involvement with having handguns present in December during a locker room dispute. Washington also made several trades before the Feb. 18 deadline, including a seven-player trade with Dallas that entailed Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood going to the Mavericks. Washington was also involved with a trade with Cleveland that entailed shipping out Antawn Jamison. But Bryant says the quality of the opponents shouldn’t define the team’s concern. “We just have to worry about the things we need to work on and focus on for ourselves,” Bryant said. “It’s not about playing our next opponents. We have to focus on doing what we have to do to become a better team.”

You can also find more post-practice video over at

Land O’ Lakers asked Kobe if he filled out his NCAA Bracket. Apparently, Kobe plays by different rules.

“I make my own rules,” said Kobe with a grin.

Look, it’s one thing when folks claim somebody of Kobe’s stature has earned the right to shoot his way through a bad game or call his own number outside the offense. We are in fact talking about one of roundball’s all-time greats and leeway is oft rightly afforded to such luminaries. But to paraphrase Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, “This is not ‘Nam. This is March Madness. There are rules.”

Sorry, I’m calling shenanigans. Kobe’s toe was over the line.

At any rate, if your pool contains an entry marked “Mamba,” don’t be surprised -or frankly, impressed- at this cat’s foresight to select Saint Mary’s, Old Dominion, Ohio AND Murray State. However, Kobe did admit rooting interest towards teams wearing his shoes. So assuming he doesn’t wait until the Elite Eight to turn in his choices, there’s always a chance you can make up ground due to votes cast by Nike loyalty over RPI.

Finally, Hardwood Paroxysm has a great post about how assists are counted and the OC Register highlights the top moments of this NBA season.

An ongoing issue with the Lakers has been their execution on offense.  We’ve discussed this several times before, so there’s really no need to expand on the specific ills that have hurt this team’s offensive efficiency over the course of the season.  However, there has been a recent trend that has popped up that has hurt this team’s offensive performance that not too many folks are talking about:  lackluster execution when facing a zone defense.  Going all the way back to the Denver game (that we won), various teams have thrown out a zone defense against the Lakers and it’s been quite effective.  Most recently, the team that had some success with a zone defense against the Lakers was Phoenix.  Below, Phillip took the time to put some pictures together and analyze some of the all too typical ways that the Lakers have been operating against a zone.  I’ll let Phillip take it from here:

It is definitely not a secret that the Lakers have had ample problems with zone defenses. Generally, an effective zone offense is working best when it is applying these three fundamental principles:

1. Player Movement

2. Ball Movement

3. Touches in the paint

During the Lakers last meeting with the Suns, there was a stretch in the first quarter where the Suns switched to a zone defense for about four minutes. The score was tied at 18 when the Suns went into the zone and they led 24-18 by the time they switched back to a man defense. I’m going to break down one of their possessions, show you what they’ve been doing wrong, especially when Kobe is not on the floor, and show you what happened the one time the ball went into the post during that stretch.


On this first shot, we see Derek Fisher passing the ball to LO on the left wing and cutting through. Shannon Brown is going to fill at the top of the key and Ron Artest is going to cut through to the low block on the left hand side. Andrew Bynum is going to start this set on the high post, an easy spot for him to get an early touch since he’d be surrounded by guards. Jaron Collins is in the middle and Jason Richardson is on the left block in their zone, neither of which would be able to come up and help with Artest down there. Unfortunately, the ball never gets there.


Here we see that Odom decided to get the ball to the top of the key to Brown. Brown dribbles to his right where Derek Fisher is spotting up wide open. The two easiest ways to get open jump shots is to reverse the ball from one side to the other, or for the ball to get into the paint and kicked out to the open man. Lamar will slide up closer to the top of the key, Bynum will go to the low block and Artest will go into the right corner. For me, the Lakers make a few mistakes here. For one, the ball will not end up in the hands of either Bynum or Fisher, which is crucial. The defense does not have to work when the ball isn’t reversed. Jared Dudley is in the center of the floor, the closest any of the Suns defenders is to defending the right side of the floor. The Lakers are essentially playing undermanned if the ball doesn’t go to the other side of the floor. The Suns’ five only have to defend three or four instead of five. Their other mistake was Artest moving to the corner. There were already three guys on the perimeter, he should have slid up into Bynum’s previous position. With all of the Suns defenders on the left side of the floor, a pass to Artest would be nearly impossible, giving them one less offensive player they have to defend. Him going to the high post gives Brown four passing options and keeps the defense honest.


Now we see that Odom has the ball again. With the Suns’ defense finally spread out, this would have been a perfect opportunity for Odom to penetrate and kick, especially with Nash on him, or for either Bynum flash high to re-collapse the defense, and kick out to any of the four guys would be wide open on the perimeter. Again, neither of these things happen. Lamar holds the ball for a few seconds, then gives it back to Brown. Now that’s a pass to Lamar, a pass to Brown, a pass back to Lamar, and a pass back to Brown. This is not how you beat a zone.


And finally, with the shot clock running down, Brown takes a few dribbles and hoists up an 18-footer. Look at where all of the Suns defenders are. All of them right around the painted area. When zone offenses are run right, the defense has the tendency to give up offensive rebounds. With the Lakers just moving the ball between two guys on the left side of the perimeter, the Suns are in a great position to finish the defensive possession off right and grab the rebound. Only Bynum is near the rim, and he’s already being sealed off by Collins. The Suns’ expended little to no energy defending the Lakers on that possession.

As Phillip said so simply, this is not how you beat a zone defense.  So, what else can the Lakers be doing to beat the zone defenses that they’re seeing now and that they’ll likely see in the future?  From my perspective, here are a few of the things that I’d like to see when the Lakers face a zone defense:

1).  Make the zone play your offense with man to man principles.  The Lakers already run an overload offense.  The Triangle, when initiated on the strong side with the sideline entry means that any Zone will then need to “man up” by having the strong side Forward extend to the wing, the Center fill in behind him to guard our post player, and then have the strong side Guard sliding over to pick up our top side Guard/Wing.  By moving the ball to the strong side and turning their zone defense into a 3 on 3 man to man front, we’ve essentially eliminated the zone on the strong side and nullified any advantage that existed with the zone’s defensive overload.

2).  Make sure the weak side offensive forward is playing in “space” as much as possible.  The weak side Forward/Big is a key player in the Triangle offense because he’s often the pressure release player and the man that does a lot of screening on the weakside.  So, against a zone defense, that player needs to be even more aware of where the defense is moving and counteract that by sliding into the gaps of the zone where he makes himself available for an easy catch.  Reed made this point very well in an email exchange recently:

We do have tall, skilled big men who make for ideal high post flashers and passers to make zones collapse. I remember Bobby Knight teaching that the way to beat a zone is to make two defenders guard the ball, and you accomplish that through penetration or getting the ball to the heart of the zone.

3).  As Phillip noted above, the ball needs to change sides more.  Too often (not only against a zone but against standard defenses as well), the Lakers keep the ball to one side and consistently try to attack against a set defense.  However, when the ball moves from one side of the court to the other, the defense must shift and react quickly and that leads to late or hasty closeouts that either leave our shooters wide open or give them angles to penetrate.

4). Play our best lineups against a zone.  Again, Reed notes that:

We only have one starter that can penetrate (Kobe), so that’s an issue. Farmar can do it, but do we really want him dominating the ball like that? I think our best zone-busting defense is probably Farmar-Brown-Kobe-Odom-Gasol as we have a bit more speed and shooting, and Bynum doesn’t seem to know what to do if he doesn’t have someone on his hip.

In this instance, I’m 100% with Reed.  Our zone offense needs passers and cutters with enough shooting to keep closing out defenders honest.  Any time the Lakers face a zone, I think it’s important that Odom is in the game to not only be a flasher and a passer, but to also take advantage of the offensive rebounding opportunities that exist against a zone.  LO is a player that loves to crash the offensive glass from the shallow corner and from the FT line extended.  These positions on the floor also double as the weak spots in any zone defense.  To me, it was no coincidence that the Lakers got Phoenix out of their zone when they started to not only make some shots, but when they started to gobble up offensive rebounds against a scrambling D.

In the end, the Lakers have a perfect offensive system to counteract a zone.  The combination of built in ball and player movement in the Triangle should lead to great success against a zone.  However, the Lakers must display the proper patience and make the correct reads with the ball in order to make the zone move to where you want it to where it can be exploited more easily.  As Phillip showed in the pictures above, the Lakers can’t just keep the ball to one side and expect to be successful.  And they need to use the correct personnel that won’t get bogged down when facing this type of defense.  I’m sure after the recent struggles against the zone that the Lakers will be more prepared when the face teams that play this style.  Because with teams like Denver, Dallas, and Phoenix the odds are that we will see a team in the playoffs that play some zone defense against us.


I’ve compiled a hodgepodge of links gathered from the Lakers’ off day.

On Home Court Advantage

From Los Angeles Times: The Lakers finished with the best record in the Western Conference last season and secured home-court advantage throughout the West playoffs. That paid dividends after the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had the best record in the NBA last season, were upset by the Orlando Magic, allowing the Lakers to get the home-court edge in the NBA Finals because they had the second-best record in the NBA. The Lakers are basically in the same spot as last season, holding the best record in the West at 50-18, second behind 54-15 Cleveland. Because the Lakers were tested in the West playoffs last season, Kobe Bryant was asked if it’s a big deal for them to have the top seeding in their conference.

From The Orange County Register: We all take a lot of our days for granted. Andrew Bynum, who has been a big-time force for the Lakers during this four-game winning streak, says he’s not going to do that anymore, and that’s the thrust of my latest column. Do you believe him? Phil Jackson hasn’t always been Bynum’s biggest fan publicly, but this season Jackson has largely supported and excused Bynum despite not meeting the coach’s expectations. Now, Jackson is on board with Bynum’s enthusiasm and production. “We’ve found a better idea what and how to use Drew inside,” Jackson said. “He’s got a resurgence after he hurt his hip. He had a bad knee bruise. He had a couple things physically that kept him from having the power that he likes to have in the post. (Tuesday night) was an exhibition by him and Pau (Gasol) that showed the strength of our team.” Many skeptics are waiting for Bynum to undermine the team by suffering another injury. But Bynum’s optimism about the Lakers being on the upswing is obvious.

From The matter was settled in clipped, definite terms Tuesday night at 5:40 p.m. in a corner of the visitor’s cubby-hole locker room inside Arco Arena. The Lakers will have home-court advantage through at least the West portion of the playoffs. The Lakers will not lose that No. 1 spot in the conference standings. Lamar Odom said so. “That’s not going to happen,” he insisted. Say again. “That’s not going to happen,” the reserve forward repeated. You’re sure? “Positive.” How can you be so sure? “Because I know my team,” Odom said. “It’s not acceptable.” But, Denver. Dallas. “Of course they’re serious threats. Every team’s a serious threat. You can lose any game you play. But us losing that spot’s not going to happen.”

On Defense

From SI.Com: FAST FACTS Josh Smith (page 40), the only NBA player with both 100 blocks and 100 steals this year, did not receive a single vote…. Phil Jackson, the coach of Artest and Bryant, has coached four NBA All-Defensive first-teamers during his 19-year career…. Only three true centers received any votes, the least of any position by far: Howard, the Pistons’ Ben Wallace (2%) and the Celtics’ Kendrick Perkins (1%).

From the Sacramento Bee: We miss Ron Artest. We do. It isn’t often these days that a prime-time scorer visits Arco Arena and leaves with bruises tattooed to his assorted body parts. Artest has that effect on people. Chicago. Indiana. Sacramento. Houston. Now L.A. When he remembers who he is, what makes him so unique, and why the above-mentioned teams paid him handsomely and put up with his antics – at least for a while – he ranks among the game’s great defenders. But then he forgets. He becomes conflicted. He gets distracted. He starts thinking about a potential music career, his overseas charities, and closer to home, his quest to be regarded as the equal of Kobe Bryant.  “You know me,” Artest said before the Lakers sprinted past the Kings on Tuesday. “I like to be involved in everything. With the Lakers, it’s a little bit different. We’re in first place, so things are OK, not great. I’m used to being the No. 1 option. I’m still trying to learn the (triangle) offense, and that can be confusing because the ball makes the decisions for you. But I’m adjusting.”

From Pro Basketball Talk: The scales must be balanced. If not for the sake of justice and Karma, then at least because I’ll be at the Lakers game and talking to Ron Artest this weekend, and I don’t want him angry at me. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Earlier today as part of our seemingly daily bit of Tyreke Evans love, we showed you his amazing spin move where Evans just abused Ron Artest. What we didn’t show you is that for the game, Artest did more than just hold his own. The fantastic site NBA Playbook broke it all down, complete with video.

Watching the game with Craig Hodges

From ESPN.Com: Lakers shooting coach Craig Hodges is dressed just as he does before any Lakers home game. Black Lakers-logoed shirt covering his slim torso. Black mesh shorts over legs still sculpted enough to carry his 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame up and down the court for a game with ease, even though he turns 50 in June. White NBA-logoed socks on his feet. Only he’s not wearing any sneakers. And he’s home. As in home home, at his apartment in Long Beach, getting ready to watch the Lakers road game against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. Hodges, who played for Lakers special assistant coach Tex Winter in college at Long Beach State and for head coach Phil Jackson when they were first together back in Chicago, is in his fifth season assisting the team, providing the shooting expertise that led to a three-peat of 3-point contest titles for him at NBA All-Star Weekend in the early ’90s.

Q&A about Courtship of Rivals

From Off The Dribble: When Magic Johnson approached HBO Sports around 18 months ago about making a documentary about his relationship with Larry Bird, it took them “two seconds” to get on board, said Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports. “Magic & Bird: a Courtship of Rivals” follows the intense rivalry that began with the N.C.A.A. championship game in 1979, when Johnson’s Michigan State team defeated Bird and Indiana State, 75-64. “I knew it was gonna haunt him forever because we were gonna see each other a lot,” Johnson said in the film. The pair then led the Lakers and the Celtics to a combined eight titles, three of which were head-to-head, with Johnson and the Lakers winning two. They also have three most valuable player awards apiece.

On Pau Gasol

From Silver Screen and Roll:
The Lakers followed their 3 game road losing streak with a 3 game road winning streak, and a very important feature of this lovely little 3 game jaunt around the Pacific Division has been the re-emergence of Pau Gasol’s game.  Check out the Spaniard’s last three box scores; it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.  Over the last three, Gasol is averaging 23 pts, a shade under 10 rebs, 2 blocks, and just 1 turnover per game.  Oh, and he’s shooting 76% FROM FIELD!! The only thing Pau has not done well in the past three is make free throws. This is the Pau Gasol that had a few experts pegging him as 1st team All NBA last year, and possibly the best pivot player in the league.  This is the Gasol that might be considered the most talented 7 footer in the game.  He’s been gone for a while, and I guess there’s no guarantee he’s back to stay.  But this is the Pau Gasol that we all fell in love with (strictly in a basketball sense, I swear), and this is the Gasol that’s earned the right to say whatever he wants.

On Sasha Vujacic

From The Los Angeles Times: Each game Sasha Vujacic plays, it is a step in the right direction for him. After missing eight games with a sprained right shoulder, Vujacic has played in four consecutive games, the one against the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night at Arco Arena being his best. He had six points on three-for-four shooting. “I said at the beginning, when I decided that I was going to play, I’m going to play,” Vujacic said. “There’s no more holding back.” Lately, Vujacic has played at the expense of Jordan Farmar.


Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  March 17, 2010

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Here are some links and some other random thoughts going through my head as I’m inside an office on another nice day in the Bay Area.

*Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone.  Now go celebrate by listening to Tas and Skeets’ song tribute to the Irish players in the league.  You know, guys like Lamar O’do’m.  Classic.  (hat tip to Probasketballtalk.)

*We linked to this earlier today, but if you haven’t done so already, go check out the video break down of Artest guarding Tyreke Evans from last night.  Evans had his moments (that spin move and layin was gorgeous), but overall Ron did a really good job denying Tyreke penetration and using active hands to disrupt passing angles.  This is just another example of the impact Ron can have for this team as he’s asked to guard the other teams best perimeter player – even when he’s a point guard.  I’m genuinely excited to see how Phil deploys Ron on defense in the playoffs.

*Speaking of the playoffs, it’s nice to see that our big guys are picking up their games as we head to the post season.  In the past two games, Bynum has gone for 40 points and 26 rebounds and Pau has had 54 and 21.  I’ve contended a lot in the past two seasons that Pau and Bynum have often gotten their numbers at the expense of each other.  I’ve just had trouble recalling where both players had really good games in the same contest.  Well, in the past two games that’s been exactly what’s happened.  If this is a trend that can continue with their chemistry and ability to play together only getting better, the league will truly be in trouble.  By the way, a big key to this recent success is Pau reestablishing his mid-range jumper.  Last night he hit at least two more of those shots.  When he’s knocking that down, the spacing on the interior is that much better and since Pau is one of our better passers the angles for him to distribute the ball are plentiful.

*And with our big men on my mind, please go check out the interview that Mike Trudell had with DJ “Congo Cash” Mbenga over at  They touched on lots of interesting topics including his nickname, his “clean” fashion sense, and who’s a more difficult cover – Bynum or Gasol (which I won’t give away). 

*Very recently, there’s been a lot of discussion about Kobe shooting too much and what works best for our offense.  These were concerns expressed again last night as Kobe took 26 shots while Pau & Bynum combined for only 28.  So you know, I see both sides of this.  There are times that Kobe is taking too many shots and it’s detrimental to the team and there are times where his shot taking and making is essential to our chances in a game.  For me, nothing is concrete and it truly is a game to game thing that needs to be felt out based off what is going on in that particular contest.  However, a side point to all of this is from the prologue epilogue of Bill Simmon’s “The Book of Basketball“.  In that final chapter, Simmons visits Bill Walton and the discussion of winning and doing it “your way” comes up.  They talk about Kobe and how #24 wants to win his way.  And, for the most part I agree with that sentiment.  Kobe is a dominant player with a dominant personality and he’s a guy that imposes his will on the game.  That leads to him having a distinct style of play that he tries to win with.  Well, guess what, so does every other superstar, past and present.  Magic and Bird wanted to win their way too.  So did Jordan.  The difference is that fans liked their “way” and don’t always agree with Kobe’s “way”, often labeling it as something negative.  The fact is, as long as it’s successful, it doesn’t matter.  There’s more than one way to skin a cat.  Kobe may frustrate us all sometimes, but he’s pretty damned good at skinning the cat.

*You know who else is pretty good?  That Lebron James guy.  And so you know, Roland Lazenby has another post up at Laker Noise about Lebron and the Lakers.  This is the second time Lazenby has covered this topic and while it all sounds plausible, I’m not sure that this could ever really happen (it is called a pipe dream, after all).  It’s a very interesting read though, so go check it out. 

*Lastly, have you joined the FB&G tourney pick ’em pool yet?  What are you waiting for?  First games are tomorrow morning and we can all see our brackets get busted together.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers

Last night, the Lakers closed out their second three-game road trip of the month with as many wins, defeating Sacramento 106-99. This three-game trip featured three of the top six fastest playing teams, and outside of their Monday night game against Golden State, the Lakers did a fairly good job controlling the pace and limiting scoring. And now, after their first three-game losing streak during Pau Gasol’s tenure, the Lakers are now on a four game winning streak, and the ONLY constant during this winning streak has been Andrew Bynum. During these past four games, Bynum has been averaging a quiet 20 points, 10.25 rebounds, 2 blocks, shooting 63.3% from the field and getting to the line 5.75 times per contest. For me, it’s not surprising that he’s putting up these kind of numbers, because he’s had some absolutely great stretches of play before, but he’s been working harder these last few games than I’ve ever seen from him. He’s finally recognizing that, if his teammates aren’t going to feed him the ball when he wants it, he’s going to have to find other ways to be affective on the court. Last night he grabbed five offensive rebounds, three of which led to dunks for him.

From Lake Show Life:

On Tuesday night in Sacramento, Bynum was the beast.

Early in the contest the Lakers pounded the rock inside forcing the Kings to contend with the Altered Beast in his natural habitat – 5 feet from the hoop.

On both ends of the court, Altered Beast Mode was in full effect.

Bynum controlled the boards, defended the hoop and abused any mere mortal in a Kings jersey.

It wasn’t until early in the third quarter that Bynum finally scored on something other than a dunk. His free throw line extended jumper was good for the Beast’s 19th point of the game. Soon after the beast reverted back to man as he stepped aside allowing Pau to put the finishing touches on a 28 and 12 night.

From Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:

Bynum was a late bloomer and didn’t go through the usual rigors of the amateur circuit as a prep phenom who – even when beaten up or worn down – had to produce for his team to win. He is still learning a lot of basic things, including playing hard at both ends even when you don’t feel that great.

That, coincidentally, was the gist of Fisher’s speech to the team. Pau Gasol summarized Fisher’s words this way: “Let’s just play hard. Let’s give our very best. And that’s how things are going to turn around for us. That’s how we’re going to get our confidence back.”

For Lakers veterans, it was a reminder. For Bynum, it was a revelation.

“I’ve just kind of made a commitment to playing hard on defense, and consequently you get involved in the game,” he said. “I like it a lot. It’s very fun for me, and I’m going to keep it up.”

To paraphrase Bryant’s positive spin about the Lakers being hard to beat if they give the effort they gave in defeat in Orlando: If Bynum plays with this kind of bounce, it’s going to be hard for a team to beat the Lakers four times in a series.

I think last night also showed the value of the same Derek Fisher we’ve all been chastising all season. It’s painfully clear that Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown just don’t get it yet. Farmar and Brown may be more athletic, quicker, shoot better and are younger, they aren’t better for the Lakers than Fish is. During the first six minutes of the second quarter, while Farmar and Brown were on the floor, they were able to collectively amass no points, no rebounds, no assists, one turnover, one illegal defensive call, one foul while allowing Tyreke Evans to run ramped. During those six minutes, Sacramento scored 20 whopping points.

Just check out this second quarter time line from the LA Times Lakers Blog, a post on the Lakers poor bench play from last night:

2nd quarter, 11:19 – 11:09

After receiving a pass from Lakers backup guard Shannon Brown, reserve guard Jordan Farmar immediately launched a contested 26-foot three-pointer over Kings guard Tyreke Evans. After Sacramento forward Jason Thompson grabbed the rebound, Evans ran the break and drove to the rack. He missed the left-handed layup, but Thompson tipped the ball in, reducing the Lakers’ lead to 30-19.

2nd quarter, 10:44 – 10:30

Odom grabbed the rebound off Thompson’s missed 17-footer and pushed the ball up the floor to Brown. On the far end behind the perimeter, Brown dribbled between his legs and then drove left past Kings guard Francisco Garcia. Though Sacramento forward Andres Nocioni and Thompson moved from the weak side to help, Brown went through traffic for an over-the-shoulder layup. The shot hit off the backboard, Nocioni grabbed the board and pushed the ball to Evans. He drove to the rack and drew a foul on Odom, who also was given a technical for arguing the call. Evans converted on all three free throws, reducing the Lakers’ lead to 30-22.

2nd quarter, 10:30 – 10:10

After Evans made the foul shots, Brown manned the point. Drawing pressure from both Garcia and Evans, Brown dribbled behind his back near the timeline before Evans swiped the ball. Brown grabbed the loose ball on the far end of the court after Odom batted it away from Garcia. He then drove to the basket and forced a left-handed layup, despite there being three Kings players in the paint. After Thompson blocked the shot, Evans grabbed the ball and passed to Kings forward Omri Caspi on the other end. He finished the play with a one-handed slam, cutting the Lakers’ lead to 30-24 and capping off Sacramento’s 7-0 run.

When Derek Fisher entered the game for Shannon Brown (Farmar left the game 30 seconds earlier), the pace of the game immediately slowed down, he hit an 18-footer and had a pretty dime to Bynum. More importantly, Sacramento scored only 11 points the rest of the way. Yes, Fish played with more of the starters, but he also plays with more control than Farmar or Brown can at this point. The thing is, with the way the Lakers roster is built, the starting unit has at least two mismatches at all times, four guys who can operate on the post, and have the size to play a very slow game. Neither Farmar or Brown allow the Lakers to take advantage of those mismatches, and play too fast and out of control for the post game to be effective.

Reactions from the Lakers/Kings game

From the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog: The Lakers walked out of Arco Arena Tuesday with a 106-99 victory over the Sacramento Kings, marking the team’s third consecutive road win after going through a frustrating four road-game losing streak. But more importantly, the Lakers likely left most fans feeling better than when they squeaked out a three-point victory Monday over the Golden State Warriors. That performance prompt valid questions on whether the Lakers would ever consistently develop enough before the playoffs begin. The Lakers didn’t quite answer that question either against the Kings. After all, the Lakers shot 18 of 28 from the free throw line, including Kobe Bryant’s eight of 14 clip from the stripe. Sacramento (23-45) ranks nowhere near among the Western Conference elite. And of course, this is just one game. The Lakers had shown positive signs before, what with their physical presence against Denver, their team balance against Indiana and their improved effort against Phoenix and Orlando. But all of those games were wedged between poor games, which featured both wins (Philadelphia, Toronto, Golden State) and losses (Miami, Charlotte,).

From The Lakers Nation: In all, the Lakers had only nine turnovers, with Kobe Bryant collecting the most with just three, a third of what he collected last night. Instead of throwing the ball around carelessly against one of the youngest and most energetic teams in the league, the Lakers threw crisp passes to each other, handing out 23 assists on 42 made field goals, a few on very impressive lobs. Pau Gasol had one of his most efficient games in a long while, with 28 points on 12-14 from the field, and it seems the spring in his step has resurfaced. This was apparent on one fast break sequence that implored a running Pau to send a no-look pass to a sprinting Shannon Brown, who finished with an emphatic one-handed dunk that sent the crowd, Lakers and Kings fans alike, into a frenzy. Kobe Bryant led all scores with 30 points, collected nine rebounds and handed out seven assists. He shot 10-26, which is just under 40%, but he appeared lighter on his feet than in recent games, he’s more active on defense and his greatest contribution of all? Directing the offense before him. If there were stats kept on the assists before the assists, Kobe would probably be one of the leaders.

From Lakers Edge: Despite a few lean years since they were contenders, the Sacramento Kings still put up a fight before succumbing to the Los Angeles Lakers 106-99 at Arco Arena. Long gone are the Doug Christie/Rick Fox confrontations, the Mike Bibby/Chris Webber/Peja Stojakovich-led offensive might, yet the fervor and the hatred for the Lakers remain. An amused Phil Jackson seemed more enthralled with the raucous Laker fans in attendance than with the squad the Kings had assembled on the floor. One must admit, they were an anonymous group, even for the dreaded Queens. It’s hard to hate someone when you don’t even recognize them. Sure, the uniforms are the same, the noise and volume are insane, but you almost feel sorry for the franchise that came within a Robert Horry three-pointer of reaching the NBA Finals. As the Kings prepare for the lottery and the Lakers try to retool themselves for a deep run into the post season, the contest was still spirited and chippy. Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 30 points and added 9 rebounds to go along with 7 assists.

From Lakers of Fire: The topic of Kobe shooting too much has been a lively debate pretty much all season long in Laker Land, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I saw the most interesting statistic about the Mamba’s itchy trigger finger: Some background for your next heated Lakers argument: They’re 3-5 when Kobe takes 30 shots or more, 25-9 when he takes 20 to 29 shots and 20-4 when he takes fewer than 20, including the five games Kobe missed. Those appear to be some pretty hard figures to argue against, but I wasn’t voted Most Argumentative in high school (totally true, by the way) for nothing, so kindly allow me the opportunity to make a rebuttal. Let’s start with the most glaring issue, the 3-5 record when Kobe takes 30+ shots.  Even I am willing to admit that 30 shots is quite a lot and runs a great risk of ruining the offensive flow for the Lakers, but was that really the case in those eight games and did it cause the five aforementioned losses?  In the three wins, Kobe shot a lot, but he was also highly accurate, shooting 50% or higher from the field.  Conversely, in the five losses, he shot 40% or lower.  Not a good start.  But the real killer wasn’t just Kobe’s bad shooting, it was the toll it took on the Laker offense.  Only twice in those eight games did they have an Offensive Efficiency rating higher than 106, their rating for the season.  And only one of those games was a Laker win, which seems to suggest that they did so more in spite of Kobe’s voluminous shot attempts.

From the Los Angeles Daily News: The Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets have loomed large in the Lakers’ rearview mirror recently. The Mavericks and Nuggets each trailed the Lakers by four games in the Western Conference going into Tuesday’s play. It remains to be seen whether the Lakers finish atop the West for the third consecutive season. No question, it should be their top priority judging by what Lakers coach Phil Jackson had to say. Jackson actually couldn’t say for certain how the Lakers might fare in the playoffs if they fail to hold on to the No. 1 spot in the West and secure homecourt advantage for at least the first three rounds of the postseason.” I don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t. We haven’t played great on the road this year. The last two years we had really good road records. We want to have home-court advantage. We feel we can sustain it if we can continue on the pace we’re going. “We look over at the other conference and see who’s two and three. Orlando is sitting a couple of games behind us (actually, 2 1/2 games). Those are all important things when your goal is to win a championship and to repeat.”

(Update: NBA Playbook takes an in-depth look at Ron Artest guarding Tyreke Evans. Go check it out, Sebastian Pruiti does an absolutely phenomenal job at breaking these things down.)

The Lakers don’t play again until Friday when they’ll be home to Minnesota. They’ll have one more home game on Sunday after their Timberwolves game before going on their third three-game road trip this month.