Archives For March 2010

It’s Time To Step Up

Darius Soriano —  March 22, 2010

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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.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS VS DENVER NUGGETS

THE GOOD

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.

THE BAD

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.”

THE REACTIONS

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.

-Phillip

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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).

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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.

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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.