Archives For March 2010

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Coming into this game the plan was the same simple one that exists for the Lakers against almost every opponent that they face: get the ball inside and let our big men work.  Tonight, was proof positive as to why that plan is put in place.  Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were dominant in this game and the Kings just had to watch as Pau executed a clinic on big man skill and Bynum reminded everyone why he was a pre-season pick to make an appearance on this years western all-star team.  Our two bigs combined to score 49 points (on only 28 shots) and grabbed 24 rebounds (including 6 offensive – with 5 by Bynum alone) to eat the Kings alive inside.

But the numbers for our bigs don’t even really tell the story.  They were just too big, too strong, and too skilled for any player on Sacramento to really contend with.  In the first quarter alone, Bynum would have four dunks and an “and one” lay in off an offensive rebound.  Spencer Hawes literally had no chance against big ‘Drew as Bynum just moved him to the side to establish the post and consistently made himself a big target for post entry passes.  And when just moving Hawes aside didn’t work, Bynum used his superior length to tip offensive rebounds to himself and the corral them to earn the Lakers an extra possession.  And then there was Gasol.  He of the multitude of post moves and returning mid-range game.  Many have been down on Gasol lately and I can understand why with his penchant for flipping shots at the rim and laying the ball up instead of throwing the ball through the hoop like we expect our 7 footers to do.  But tonight, we saw the return of the player that many have been calling the most skilled big man in the game.  A lefty jump hook on one possession would be followed by a 17 foot jumper which would be followed by a drop step spin move and reverse lay up which would be followed by…you get the picture.

But our inside play wouldn’t be limited to our big men.  Kobe would also get into the act by harassing the interior of the Sacto defense with strong post ups of his own and dribble drive attacks to the rim.  During a personal run of 13 straight Lakers points at the end of the first quarter, Kobe would score 5 baskets from within six feet of the hoop and tack on 3 free throws for good measure.  And it’s a good thing that Kobe had his inside game working because his outside shot was spotty for most of this contest.  To my eyes, Kobe was obviously suffering from some tired legs brought on by 40 minutes of high octane play against the Warriors on Monday evening.  His jumper was consistently short and his free throw shooting was also poor as he only connected on 8 of his 14 attempts.  Even on some of his drives, his explosion and body control was missing as he had several of his shots blocked and was unable to pull of some of the spectacular moves that we’ve come accustomed to when just trying to get a shot off against a bruising defense.  But that would matter little in the larger picture of what this game was – a exertion of force by our big men and a return of some solid execution on offense.

Though it came against a poor defensive team, the Lakers did show that they’re making strides on the offensive side of the ball.  Passes were more crisp and the player movement was more exact.  We strung together several good offensive possessions in a row – a nice sight considering that type of execution has not been the norm for long stretches this season.  In the comments of the game thread, Zephid described one such sequence:

Lakers just had a sequence of 3 very good offensive sets after Kobe and Fisher went to the bench.  The first had Gasol on the block in good position, spun baseline and finished over Nocioni.  The second led to a wide open Sasha jumper from 20 feet, coming off the down screen from Artest in the pinch post, classic triangle.  The last had Shannon Brown score off the dive from the top of the key, receiving the pass from Gasol in the post.  Three absolutely perfect offensive possessions in a row. And notice that the common theme was the ball going into the post.

And while this level of execution was not the norm throughout the entire game, it was nice to see this level of ball movement and focus on executing our sets.

However, not everything was positive about this game.  As was the case against the Warriors, the Lakers played a poor second period that allowed the Kings to make a run and come back.  An eleven point first quarter lead would be cut to one point by half as the Lakers bench could not seem to get their heads on straight about how to attack the Kings defense.  And the major culprits were, again, our back up guards.  For running a read and react offensive system,  Jordan and Shannon seem to make their minds up early in possessions about what they want to do with the ball.  Rather than allowing the defense’s actions dictate where the ball should go or where the point of attack should be, both of these guys race up the court and try to force the action.  This leads questionable shot taking and just poor decision making overall.  This time, I’ll let commenter Kostas explain from the game thread:

Even if those shots are falling it is not what our team needs from them. You just can’t have Pau and Lamar running up and down the floor 4 straight possessions without touching the ball. (Brown and Farmar) are doing the exact opposite from what is required of them. Guards in our system are supposed to stabilize the offense.

The only saving grace for our back up guards was an effective and oiled up Machine and a saving grace, late game stint from Shannon.  When they made an appearance in the fourth quarter, these guys played under control, made the right reads with their passes and their cuts, and made the shots that were there for them to take.  They didn’t force the action and they reminded fans of what guard play should look like in our sets.

Overall, a nice win for the Lakers and one that got them to the 50 win mark for the 3rd straight season.  During the telecast, the Kings announcers commented that the really good teams make goals of “50 before 20” (meaning 50 wins before 20 losses), and the Lakers were able to do that against Sacramento with this win.  It wasn’t always pretty, but when you’re the champion and taking every team’s best shot it won’t be.  Especially a young and hungry team like Sacramento.  At this point, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Kings’ rookie Tyreke Evans.  He is everything he’s billed to be.  Explosive and strong with the ball, Evans has a knack for finding creases in the defense and slashing his way to the rim.  He had several nice finishes in the paint, narrowly missed some others, and drew plenty of fouls on a bunch of other plays.  He finished the night just one assist shy of a triple double and if his mates would have made some of the wide open looks he set them up for, he would have gotten it easily.  But, tonight was not his night and his team fell to the defending champs.  No shame in that.  Plus, I have a feeling he’ll be putting the hurt on the Lakers (and pretty much every other team in the league) for years to come.

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Records: Lakers 49-18 (1st in the West), Kings 23-44 (13th in West, 26 games behind Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.0 (10th in NBA), Kings 105.9 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.7 (5th in NBA), Kings 110.0 (25th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Kings: Tyreke Evans, Beno Udrih, Donte Greene, Carl Landry, Spencer Hawes

The Lakers Coming in:  The Lakers are two for two in their mini road trip against Pacific Division foes and tonight they try to make it a trifecta.  After a closer than expected game last night against the Warriors in Oakland, the Lakers look to take it to the kids in the Capital tonight in Sacramento.  Not much has changed for the Lakers in recent weeks.  They understand the urgency of needing to round into playoff form, but are having trouble putting together a complete game against many opponents.  That’s led to some tight battles of late and those battles can be looked at a few different ways.  On one hand, the Lakers need to play better.  An undermanned Warriors team has no business having a shot at tying the game in the final seconds with a good look from three.  On the other hand, the Lakers are finding improvements in certain parts of their game (their offense is improving; they sported an offensive rating 0f 123 last night) and they’re finding ways to win games against teams that are hungry to beat the world champs.  In a way, this Lakers team is just now learning what repeating as a champion is like and that means taking every teams’ best shot every night.  Just as Fisher, Kobe, and Phil couldn’t teach this team what it actually took to win a title the first time, they also can’t properly instill what it will take to repeat.  These are processes that are learned and the steps need to be taken in order to find that path.  There are improvements that are still needed, though.  Lets see if they make some of the necessary tweaks to their game tonight.

The Kings Coming in:  Sacramento is an interesting team of late.  Though they have a poor record on the season, they’ve been playing some pretty decent ball recently.  Five wins in their last ten may not seem that great, but it’s a healthy improvement to what has been going on with the Kings this season.  What is the reason for the turnaround, you ask?  A chest bump (there’s obviously more to it than that, so check out the link).  Oh yeah, and they also have some pretty good young players and are building a real team that is balanced.

The list of good young players on the Kings starts with the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award, one Tyreke Evans.  Basically, this kid is a beast.  Coming out of Memphis there were questions about Evans’ ability to run an NBA offense and whether or not he is really a point guard.  After seeing some assist stats, I think those concerns should be put to rest.  Personally, I think he can play whatever position he wants and do it well – PG/SG/SF, just give him the ball.  He is in the mold of a Dwyane Wade; a player that is almost unguardable off the dribble, especially for opposing PG’s that don’t have the size or strength to deal with him.  To better illustrate this, Evans is getting 8 shots a game at the rim (or almost two more shots at the rim than Lebron) and he’s converting those shots at a 60% clip.  This young man is a monster off the dribble and at finishing in the paint.  But the young talent doesn’t stop with Evans.  The Kings also have Donte Greene (acquired from Houston as part of the Artest trade), Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes, and Omri Casspi.  Add to that core of players the recently acquired (from Houston again) Carl Landry in the Kevin Martin trade and you have a nice young roster of some hard nosed players that bring their hard hats with them to the court.

Kings Blogs:  The Kings have some fantastic bloggers that chronicle the daily goings of this team.  Visit Cowbell Kingdom (where Zach Harper is doing great things) and Sactown Royalty (where I visit often if only to get the latest piece of work from Tom “Ghostface” Ziller).

Keys to game:  The Kings have a roster that actually matches up quite well with the Lakers.  While they’re a bit undersized at PF (Landry and backup Jason Thompson are not the biggest guys) they will make up for it in fight and hustle.  Add to that a legit 7 footer in Hawes, enough size in the back court, and athleticism on the wings and you’ve got a real up and coming team that will cause the league problems if they can put it all together.

All that said, the Lakers should stick with their normal offensive plan and attack the Kings inside out.  While Hawes has size, he’s not a banger and Andrew should be able to take him down to the block and score buckets while also drawing fouls.  Gasol should also be able to use his height advantage to create good looks for himself on offense against both Landry and Thompson.  As for Kobe, he’ll either be guarded by Udrih or Evans, two players that don’t have the skill or savvy to stay with him for long.  I expect to see a lot of post up Kobe tonight, especially on the weakside where he either forces the Kings to double team or gets an easy look from 10 feet and in.

Sacramento is also a good team to run some P&R against, especially the SG/C pick and roll when Bynum is in the game.  Hawes is not a fleet footed player and Kobe should be able to turn the corner against him.  I’d prefer that this set be run within the scope of the offense (like at the elbow off the dribble hand off) or on the secondary break on a drag screen, but I do think this is a play that Sacto will have trouble stopping as Kobe can either take the ball himself or throw the lob to the diving Bynum (who will be going after the ball against undersized help defenders).  Other than this play, the Lakers should run their sets and take care of the ball.  As I mentioned earlier the Kings are young team.  Young players have fresh legs and want to get out into the open court.  The Lakers must take care of the ball tonight to avoid run outs from Evans, Green, Landry, and Casspi.

On defense, this is a game where packing the paint is the number one goal.  As stated earlier, Evans’ prime objective is to get to the rim and to look for his own shot.  He is a willing passer, but I’d much rather give up some open jumpshots to the likes of Donte Greene, Udrih, and Francisco Garcia than watch Evans have a big night and get the crowd into the game with spectacular finishes.  The other key will be slowing down the P&R with Udrih and Hawes.  Over the years, Udrih has been a thorn in the side of the Lakers as he uses his southpaw craftiness to create angles to the basket that befuddles the Lakers’ defense.  You add a good jumpshooting big in Hawes to this combination and you’ve got the type of duo running the P&R that the Lakers have had problems with for several straight seasons.  We need to hedge hard on Udrih, help the helper so Hawes doesn’t get wide open looks, and then rotate around the rest of the perimeter.  I said earlier that I’d rather give up open jumpshots than layups, but the Kings do have enough shooting to hurt us if they can measure shots without a defender closing down on them.

Also as alluded to earlier, the Kings want to get out and run.  They play at the 6th fastest pace in the leauge and have good depth (you can add Nocioni and Dorsey and May to their group of bench players that get minutes on this team) and so they are not averse to making substitutions and continuing to push the pace.  And with the Lakers coming off a late night, high possession game last night in Oakland,  the Lakers will need to be aware of what the Kings want to do on offense and hustle back on D and create a wall in the paint so Evans can’t get going.

Where you can watch:  7:00pm start time out West on KCAL, also on ESPN Radio 710am.

I must admit something right out of the gate – I haven’t been watching too much college hoops this year.  I’ve caught the occasional John Wall highlight and I watched some of Evan Turner’s heroics against Michigan, but besides that I have not been on top of it this year.  So, I guess that doesn’t bode well for me when picking the games in the Tournament this year.  Can you do better than me?  Is that even saying much?

Like last year, Forum Blue and Gold is having a Tourney Pool and you can be part of it.  You can win one of these nifty FB&G t-shirts and lots of bragging rights. 

All you have to do is follow this link and join our group:

Group ID#: 111427
Password: cakewithkwame



From the Los Angeles Times: Say this about the Lakers: Every game is an adventure. The Lakers knew they could beat the Golden State Warriors, so they joined them most of the game, running and gunning without a care or a conscience on the way to a surprisingly tough time against one of the NBA’s worst teams. After a first-half deficit, the Lakers returned to a somewhat deliberate offense and a defense that no longer looked like they were playing pick-up games at Venice Beach . . . for the most part. The Lakers outlasted the Warriors, 124-121, Monday at Oracle Arena, a testimony to, uh, well, it wasn’t really clear. Andrew Bynum had a good game when he wasn’t turning the ball over eight times, finishing with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Kobe Bryant had 29 points and a staggering nine turnovers. Pau Gasol had 26 points on efficient 10-for-13 shooting.

From the Oakland Tribune: Warriors guard Stephen Curry had a question for Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. With Lakers guard Shannon Brown at the free-throw line, Curry asked Bryant is he was worried. The Warriors, who lost by 33 points to the visiting Lakers earlier this season, were within six and had momentum. Bryant snickered.  “I told him,” Curry recalled, ” ‘I’m new to the league. I can’t read you yet.’ He just looked at me (smiling) and said ‘Nah.’ “Bryant’s confidence was justified by a 124-121 Lakers win Monday that happened partly because he scored nine of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. But the Warriors certainly gave the Lakers reason to doubt.

From The Lakers took care of the standings Monday with their 124-121 victory against the Warriors. But when it comes to searching for any broader conclusions, Kobe Bryant has a simple message: Don’t bother. “You just want to get the hell out of here with a win,” Bryant said. “You’re not going to see anything remotely close to (the Warriors’ style) in the playoffs. Not even close. So there’s nothing you can gauge in this game. You just get out of here with a win and move on.” The Lakers did so, although thanks to a 9-0 Warriors run in the final two minutes, the outcome was in doubt until Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis missed 3-pointers on the game’s final possession. Ellis’ attempt, coming off a 180-degree spin after scooping up the offensive rebound, bounced on the rim three times before falling away.

From SLAMOnline: I’m just happy we had great games last night. After not watching much of anything NBA for the whole week -seriously, crazy, right?– it was so nice to sit in front of the TV and take in some bball goodness. I kinda thought ESPN was going to have two blowouts on their hands, but the Warriors/Lakers game turned out to be a great nightcap. While the Lakers won 124-121, the Warriors fought them the whole way through as Steph Curry missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds. After Monta Ellis grabbed the loose offensive board and tossed up a three at the buzzer, the ball bounced three times before finally refusing to go through the hoop and the Lakers exhaled. Kobe Bryant exhaled after escaping a missed free throw in crunch time and nine turnovers in the game. Oh yeah, a rookie named Steph Curry hanging with him, too. Yes, I’m not kidding. Kobe finished with 29 points on 9-18 fgs, with three rebounds, four assists and nine turnovers. Curry finished with 29 points on 11-19 fgs to go with five rebounds, nine assists and didn’t turn the ball over in his 33 minutes. Pretty sweet line for the kid. I really wanted him to hit that three and take the game to overtime. He’s just so much fun to watch.


From Silver Screen and Roll: Stephen Curry is a rock star. I’m not sure I really understood that before tonight’s game, a frantic and garbled 124 to 121 Lakers win over the Golden State Warriors, but I do now, and I apologize to him for being late to the party. The kid has an amazing suite of basketball skills, and I fully expect him to torture the Lakers throughout the coming decade. Tonight he came achingly close to powering the Dubs to an upset. Curry scored 29 points on 73% True Shooting and distributed nine assists, delicious numbers even in a 100-possession NBA Jam game. No one on the Lakers could guard him. Not Shannon Brown, and most certainly not Derek Fisher. Despite running the offense on almost every possession he was on the floor, Curry committed zero turnovers. With three seconds left and Golden State down only three, he danced away from Fish for a clean look from 26 feet that was perfectly on line but just a touch long. The Lakers were lucky to survive the rook’s magnificent performance.

From Ball Don’t Lie: Oh. My. Gosh. Pau Gasol(notes) got his braces off. He’s been wearing those things for, like, two years. Probably, like, even longer. How embarrassing.  But for real, he’s been a brace face for such a long time. I’m just happy that he can, like, get on with his life now. Everybody’s always calling him “soft,” or whatever, and maybe it’s because he’s a grown-up with braces. But I’m just like, “he needs to straighten his teeth, guys. Geeeeeeez.” Chill out.

From Land O’ Lakers: A few seasons back, NBA writer Ross Siler, then of the Los Angeles Daily News, now in Utah covering the Jazz for the Salt Lake Tribune, described the experience of writing about the Lakers as “82 Super Bowls a year.” Plus playoffs, of course. Every game, big or small, is generally treated like Game 7 of the Finals by the faithful. But in my nearly five seasons covering the team, I’ve taken some amount of pride in keeping a level head. In not freaking out, or losing perspective, remembering always on any given night in the NBA one team can beat another. Especially on the road.  Monday night in Oakland, the Lakers chose to test my calm demeanor in a serious way. Quite frankly, against an undermanned, undersized Golden State Warriors team, one with about 35 percent of the D-League on its roster, only an act of God- I’m talking a genuine, Lord Almighty-touching-the-Warriors-during-the-anthem act of God- should have allowed the game to be close. This is a Golden State team so small, the sign at the amusement park noting how tall you have to be to ride this ride could post up half their lineup.

A Running Diary From Basket Blog: 7:30 The Lakers were hotter than Sasha Vujacic after getting called for a foul to start the game, nailing all six of their shots and all three free throws, but three turnovers and two threes from D-League call up Anthony Tolliver kept Golden State within two points. L.A. then promptly missed its next six shots in a 16-all tie. Not yet into the game was D.J. Mbenga, whom I bring up as he sat down with us for an extended interview in which he discussed building a basketball court in his native Congo with Kobe Bryant’s name on it, fashion, his nickname and much more. 2:52 Nobody was happier that Ron Artest drained two wide open 3-pointers than Kobe Bryant, who assisted on each when the Warriors’ defense overcompensated on the other side of the floor. Artest has been L.A.’s best 3-point shooter this season, flirting with 40 percent for most of the year before dipping to around 38 percent of late. Kobe knows quite well how much more difficult the Lakers are to beat if Artest’s 3-ball is going down, and went immediately towards Ron Ron with a “Yeah boy!” look after the second make.


From the OC Register: More and more, the world is needing to see Pau Gasol’s public displays of affection for a certain someone whose name rhymes with “Flowbee Giant. Late Monday night, though, Gasol walked out of the locker room after the Lakers had beaten Golden State, came back toward the Oracle Arena court and waited for his girlfriend to make her way down from the stands. I’m not sure what the movies are like in Spain, but what ensued seemed right out of a serious Spanish love scene. Gasol leaned down into a kiss that went on long enough to count “one-Barcelona, two-Barcelona, three-Barcelona, four-Barcelona, five-Barcelona …” That Gasol would be so amorous in front of still plenty of people in the arena was a little surprising. Then again, that’s what everyone needs to understand about Gasol: He will surprise you. He’s not just what you think he is. He’s soft, but he’s also sharp.

From the Los Angeles Daily News: Derek Fisher doesn’t believe the Lakers are where they need to be in order to repeat as NBA champions. He doesn’t believe they are all that far away, however. He does believe there is time to bridge the gap. “In the next 30 days, we have that opportunity, but we have to make the most of it,” he said before the Lakers faced the Golden State Warriors on Monday night at Oracle Arena. “We still have to go out on the court and do it.” The Lakers have 15 games remaining in the regular season, including tonight’s contest against the Kings in Sacramento. They have a little more than a month before the playoffs start and they begin their defense of their NBA title in earnest. “Interestingly enough, I like the position where in,” Fisher said. “I feel like we’re at the lower part of the curve of where we can be. There’s a lot of upside and the upside is matched by ability and capability, and we can reach the upside.”

On tonight’s Lakers/Kings game

From The Sacramento Bee: The Lakers aren’t supposed to be revered in Sacramento. They’re not supposed to be loved at Arco Arena – not when their coach, Phil Jackson, mocked Kings fans as being “semi-civilized” or “maybe redneck” nearly 10 years ago. But the Lakers have made themselves at home in Northern California.  Tonight’s game against the Lakers marks the third sellout of the season for the Kings. The other sellouts were the home opener against Memphis and the Lakers’ first visit in late December. Cowbells no longer ring in the Lakers’ ears. And based on the warm ovation they receive during pregame introductions, the Lakers might think they’re at Staples Center if they closed their eyes.

From The No Look Pass: I don’t do Laker GameDay Q&A’s too often but this gives us a chance to get to know other teams. The Sacramento Kings are tonight’s opponents for the Lakers. They have a bright future with rookie Tyreke Evans on the helm. And they have played the Lakers very well this season. In this Q&A, I talk to Zach Harper, the man behind the super Kings blog, Cowbell Kingdom (part of the ESPN TrueHoop Network). And, of course, you may have heard of TalkHoops Dot Net; he is behind that site also. Watch how fast this conversation goes wrong. Gotta love it. You were high on the potential Tyreke Evans/Kevin Martin duo. Then Martin was traded and now the Kings have Carl Landry. How much do you (dis)like this trade? I love the trade for the simple fact that it gives the Kings’ offensive attack some balance. The Martin-Evans duo would have absolutely worked if Spencer Hawes and/or Jason Thompson had been effective scorers inside. The team had no balance to the offense and the Kings were trying to get their two best players going on the perimeter without giving the defense something to respect inside. Because of that, the opposing teams could overplay the perimeter with a wall of long defenders sitting behind them. Now, teams can’t do that as much. You have to respect Landry inside and with his face-up jumper because he can score on anybody. This opens up shots outside for Donté Greene, Omri Casspi, Francisco Garcia and Beno Udrih. More importantly, it gives Tyreke Evans some room to operate and a safety valve to dump it off to when he gets stopped in the paint. The trade has worked out perfectly for this Kings team.


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As I mentioned in the comments of the game preview, this was a game that I had the pleasure of attending.  And let me just say that I don’t think I could have been at a more entertaining game.  The crowd was great, the game was a back and forth affair, and in the end the Lakers dodged a couple of daggers from Curry and Monta and came out victorious.  All in all a pretty good night.  As for the breakdown of what I saw from the stands, here it is bullet style:

*This really was a game of size vs. speed.  Bynum, Gasol, and Odom pretty much towered over every Warrior’s defender that tried to guard them.  After looking at the box score, it’s no surprise that those three guys combined for 62 points and 35 rebounds (including 12 offensive) while converting on 23 of their 33 shots.  The Warriors had no answer for our big men inside and the Lakers could and should have exploited this match up more than they did this evening.  There were at least 6 to 10 plays where I thought the ball needed to go into the post, but instead the wing man looked off our big man and swung the ball around the perimeter instead.  I’m not exactly sure what the wing player saw, but I know I saw an open big man fighting for position on the block against a player that was at least 5 inches shorter.  And I should mention that even though all of our bigs played well, I thought Pau was the most impressive.  He again showed a wide array of post moves and also had a couple of nice jumpers from the wing.  One play that I was particularly impressed with was when he made the catch on the left wing at about 20 feet out and was picked up by Maggette.  Pau then proceeded to dribble towards the rim, shield off Maggette, turn into the paint, and then drop a soft right handed hook into the cup.  On a possession he started near the three point line, the man got a lay up all with a SF pestering him on his handle.  That big Spaniard is quite skilled.

*If there were two areas where the Lakers really played poorly it was their pick and roll defense and their carelessness with the ball on offense.  On the P&R, I thought the Lakers did a good job of stringing out the Warriors guards and not allowing them a direct path to the basket, but absolutely no one was covering the screen man after the pick was set.  I don’t know how it looked on television, but watching the Warriors big men just dive to the cup over and over again to get easy buckets was quite frustrating.  And even when the Lakers did collapse the paint to contest the roll man, they left shooters around the arc wide open with nary a close out.  I understand that Golden State plays a style of play with unorthodox lineups that are tough to contend with.  But it really was maddening watching Steph Curry dissect us with easy passes to players that were wide open.  And then the turnovers?  There were times where it seemed like the Lakers were confused as to who their teammates were.  In the first half Bynum literally threw the ball away twice in a manner that had me completely  convinced that he did not even bother to look before he passed.  Eight turnovers for our young big man and that is way too many.  But, he doesn’t even take the cake when it comes to giving the ball away because of Kobe’s nine(!) miscues.  Kobe’s first two giveaways were innocent enough as Monta read his backdown dribble and reached around for a nifty steal and then later Kobe just threw a bad pass on a lob pass to Bynum that they’ve executed a hundred times before.  But over the course of the evening, the jump passes and the mishandled dribbles became more and more frustrating to watch.  24 total turnovers for the Lakers and they were only able to get back 5 of their own from a solid Warriors team.  Rarely do you win when you’re -19 in the turnover game but the Lakers found a way.

*Until you actually see Golden State in person and witness their commitment to pushing the pace I don’t think you can fully appreciate how hard they get out and run.  They really do race the ball up the court and attack you with hard drives to the rim, floaters in the lane, and drag screen and rolls.  And then when they see you recovering to the paint to stop Maggette or Watson or Ellis on their drives, Morrow and Tolliver and Curry break free to shoot wide open jumpers from behind the arc.  It’s no wonder that Kobe was saying after the game that they’ll take the win and not take much from this specific game.  No other team plays a style and with such abandon that the Warriors do.  Even the 7 seconds or less Suns had some sort of method to their madness.  This Warriors team is like watching those old Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble LMU teams.  They just run and run and run and fire up shots and pressure you into playing their style.  If they could actually defend the paint and rebound, they’d really be dangerous.

*I hate to use this play on words but the Lakers must be into sloppy seconds.  This was another game where they showed no desire to execute on offense or defense in the second period.  This truly has been an ongoing theme this season and I don’t get it.  I recall during the Denver broadcast a couple of weeks ago the announcers mentioned how the Lakers own the best point differential in the NBA for the first quarter.  So, maybe they just get comfortable with their lead and start to relax or maybe our bench really is that bad and they can’t focus on playing the style that built up the lead.  I really wish I had an answer, but I don’t.  Against the Warriors, the Lakers turned a 7 point first quarter lead into a 6 point halftime deficit and if it looked half as ugly on TV as it did in person, I’m sorry for all of you just like I felt sorry for myself.  The only thing that made it worse were these two 20-something kids behind me asking if I was a Lakers fan and then proceeding to tell me how much better Cleveland and Lebron are than the Lakers and Kobe.  Good times at Oracle at halftime.

*The Lakers are obviously struggling with their backup guards.  Farmar’s hand still is not right (that missed lefty reverse is a shot that he’s converted all season) and Sasha’s leash is incredibly short (Phil actually put Sasha in, watched him force a pass to a covered teammate, and then instantly whistled to Farmar to go back in – wow).  You throw in Shannon and his (some would say over) confidence in his ability to get a shot and there aren’t too many positives with this group.  I was happy to see Shannon get some crunch time burn, but I was not happy to see him ignore  big men that had good post position, or watch him dribble between his legs as he probed the defense for an opening that never materialized, or watch him go under screens on Curry when the kid was obviously feeling good about his offense.  I think it’s obvious at this point that the coaches have empowered Shannon to play this way, but I’m really missing the guy that we got from Charlotte last season; the guy that played masterfully off the ball and only shot when he was open and was a willing passer.  Whatever happened to that player, I may never know nor understand.

*As for the Warriors, I must give them a bunch of credit.  These guys don’t quit and they play until the final buzzer.  They have enough talent on offense to keep any game close and if you miss enough shots or turn the ball over enough they will hang tough with you for an entire game.  Curry is something special, Maggette is finally free to just attack as often as he likes, and their bigs (despite their lack of pedigree) are skilled enough to hit the open shots that are made available to them.  If Monta Ellis could have bought a bucket tonight, this game could have been much, much different and likely would have titled to the Warriors.  And even with a “C” performance from Monta, the Warriors still had a chance to tie the game at the end and had a shot rim out that just as easily could have fallen.

In the end, just an exciting game and a great atmosphere to watch it in.  I really can’t say enough about the crowd and how they created an environment that inspired their home team to give their all.  The chants of “defense” were deafening at times and while I don’t think the Lakers were affected, I know that the Warriors were motivated by their home fans.  I was lucky enough to attend the Warriors/Dallas playoff games during the “We Believe” era of the team and while this crowd wasn’t quite to that level they were close there in the second period and at the end of the game.  When the Lakers went on their run in the middle part of the fourth quarter, you did hear a lot of Lakers cheers, but those fans just seemed to motivate the Warriors fans to come alive again for that one final push at the end.  Again, just a great crowd that really knows its hoops and makes the game that much more fun to be at.

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Records: Lakers 48-18 (1st in West), Warriors 18-47 (14th in West, 29.5 behind the Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.8 (11th in NBA), Warriors 107.2 (13th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.4 (2nd in NBA), Warriors 110.9 (29th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Warriors: Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Anthony Morrow, Corey Maggette, Anthony Tolliver

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are looking to establish some momentum going into these last few weeks of the regular season.  They’ve got two straight wins and are looking for more tonight with a visit to Oakland.  Where the Lakers have shown some improvement in the last two games is on offense.  Yes, it helps to play poor defensive teams, but I’ll take improvement on that side of the ball against any opponent right now.  In the game against the Suns, the Lakers effectively dealt with the double teaming schemes that they faced by moving the ball with swing and skip passes and attacking both the middle of the paint and from the three point line with good accuracy.  Facing another poor defensive team tonight, the Lakers should be able to build on their recent performances and hopefully find that their outside shooting is coming around.

On the injury front, I don’t have any updated news on Jordan Farmar and I think he’ll play this evening.  Against the Suns his sprained left pinkie seemed to be bothering him and he saw limited minutes with Sasha stepping in as the extra ball handler in our back court rotation.  Whether this trend continues tonight remains to be seen, but if Jordan is unable to play his normal minutes we’re likely to see more Sasha, which considering his recent return from injury, could be a good thing as he is forced to find his rhythm and game legs sooner than not.

The Warriors Coming in:  The Warriors are more like the Walking Wounded these days.  On most nights they’ve got an entire eight man rotation sitting out and in their current rotation they feature more guys that went undrafted (5) than guys that were picked even picked in the draft at all (3 – including Ellis who was a 2nd rounder).  This includes D-League call ups Anthony Tolliver (starting at Center), Reggie Williams (back up G/F), and Chris Hunter (back up F/C).  Umm, that’s not a rotation I’d wish on any coach, not even the ones I question (like Don Nelson).  So, as could be expected, fielding a talent starved line up like the Warriors have lately has not led to many wins lately.  The Warriors are 2-8 in their last ten and are literally limping to the season’s finish line.  However, despite the injuries this team is playing hard.  So, they deserve credit on that front.  They don’t quit in games and due to having this many players out injured and replacing them with hungry players that are looking for a future in this league has made them battle as hard as possible and created a bunker mentality with the guys that are out on the floor.

One of those guys that is out there every night is rookie, Steph Curry.  I’ve sung this kid’s praises all year and he continues to play well coming down the stretch of the season.  He’s scoring the ball with ease and efficiency and is playing a brand of point guard that a lot of scouts questioned was possible when he came out of Davidson.  Not to heap too much praise on the kid, but his game is eerily similar to Steve Nash’s as he’s a fantastic shooter that is very good in P&R situations.  He’s finding ways to get off his jumpshot and finish in the lane (though he’s not that athletic) and is showing a feel for passing that is beyond his years as a developing point guard.  He may not win rookie of the year (Tyreke Evans is a lock), but he’s shown that he’s probably the second best player out of this draft (or third if you count the injured Blake Griffin) and will make the teams that passed on him in last year’s draft have some buyers remorse on the kids they did pick up.

Warriors Blogs: Warriors World is a great stop for information on the team from the Bay and also check out  Golden State of Mind for fresh and inspired opinions, including why Nellie is the right coach for the Warriors.

Keys to game:  If you watched any of the videos from yesterday’s review of the games the Lakers have played against the Warriors, you noticed a bit of a theme.  That would be that the W’s don’t have any big men that can contain the inside play of Bynum, Gasol, and Odom.  So tonight, the Lakers should look to exploit those same advantages by deliberately going inside and pounding the undersized Warriors.  This advantage should be even more pronounced tonight as the Warriors will start the smallest frontline in the NBA in Morrow/Magette/Tolliver, with none of those players being bigger than 6’9″.  So, go inside to our bigs on post ups and we’ll likely see a result of two points or a trip to the foul line.  And that goes for our guards and wings too.  Kobe and Artest will have major size advantages over the players that match up with them, so posting up Kobe on the weakside pinch post (or on the secondary break where he brings the ball up and just starts his backdown from 17 feet out) and posting up Artest both in post iso’s or on his baseline cuts after making post entries will be ways to get our wings involved and hamper an already shallow team with foul troubles.  Also, considering their depth issues, don’t be surprised to see the Warriors throw some zone at the Lakers.  In order to attack any zone the Lakers need to move the ball from one side of the court to the other to get the zone scrambling.  The can then attack the gaps in the zone via penetration off the dribble or with the pass.  Look for Pau and LO to get receive the ball at the FT line area and then play some two man game with the posting up big that should be crashing towards the rim once the flash man receives the ball (more on using the Triangle to attack a zone later this week).

On defense, the Lakers need to control the Warriors leak outs and their sprints to the three point line.  In the last game, Morrow and CJ Watson got hot and made a lot of shots from the outside off the secondary break by running to the arc in transition.  The Lakers allowed those two to walk into three point shots and shoot the ball in rhythm.  This will need to change tonight as the Warriors speed is the only advantage that they have and they’ll look to exploit that every chance they get.  Also, I mentioned Steph Curry earlier and he’ll be looking to redeem himself after the 5-21 effort he put up in the last game against us.  He’ll run a ton of P&R and whoever is on him will need to chase over the top of the screen while the hedging big man closes the lane down and denies penetration.  Curry has shown great skill in splitting the double team from the chasing guard and the hedging big and the Lakers will need to be extra aware of that tonight and make the young rookie go wide on his dribble.

The other key player to stop is Corey Magette.  In the last match up Maggette only shot 4-13 from the field but converted on nine of his twelve FT attempts.  Getting to the line is his forte and expect that tonight he’ll continue to try and bull his way to the basket as often as possible.  So, understand that when guarding Maggette the best strategy is back off him and invite the jumpshot.  He will happily take the jumper but it’s when you don’t give him enough space to shoot the deep two that he’ll put his head down and attack the rim.  He prefers to go to his right hand but he will also go left so just be aware of where he is on the court and how much space he’s given because that will impact how he uses that offensive possession.

Overall, this is a game where the Warriors are so short handed that they do not have anywhere near the talent to compete for a full 48 minutes.  So, the Lakers need to shut their guards down early, slow the game down and limit their running chances by going inside to the to post, and just hammer this team until there’s a large margin going into the 4th quarter.  Of course, I say all this and the Warrriors will probably start out hot and keep the game close by bombing three pointers.  Either way, a match up with Golden State is one of the more entertaining games of the year so I think we’ll all be in for a treat.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time out West on ESPN nationally and KCAL locally, also on ESPN Radio 710am.

Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers.

On Friday night the Lakers went in to Phoenix, one of the league’s better home teams, and played excellent much improved basketball, with all five starters scoring at least 15 points for the first time since the 03-04 season. Since the game was on Friday, I’m sure you’ve already consumed enough information about the Phoenix game, but I do have a couple of tidbits from the game:

– If you haven’t already, please check out Silver Screen and Roll’s running diary of the game. It gives you a great account of all of the events that happened, and it’s absolutely hilarious.

– Also, reader Joel B inquired about Pau Gasol’s free throw shooting against some of the better teams in the league. I took the liberty of crunching the numbers against the best eight teams in the league. His free throw percentage did fall, but only from 79.35 to 79.07 percent. Also, he gets to the line a bit less, too, dropping from 3.74 trips to the line on the season to 3.58 per game against seven of the other top eight teams in the league.

Here are some other links on Lakers news in bulleted form.

From Having survived the three-game lull with two wins against Toronto and Phoenix, Artest wants the Lakers to do some streaking of their own. “We just want to win every game and hopefully just win out,” Artest said. “That would be the main goal, just not to lose anymore.” Wouldn’t that be something? Eighteen straight wins to end the season would be just like the last Lakers team to accomplish a championship repeat. The 2000-01 squad won its last eight games of the regular season and started the postseason on an additional 11-0 spurt to extend its winning streak in the time when winning really matters to 19 games.

From NBA MVP: Kobe Bryant is playing at a high level but not the best we have seen if his career. He’s reached the peak of his career, I know you have heard it numerous time and the Lakers have not played consistent basketball compared to last season. Kobe missed 5 games due to several injures which hurt his campaign. He’s not out of the race yet, and the Lakers are still within striking distance for the best record in the NBA to close out the season. Kobe can compete and continue to dominate scoring the basketball but he isn’t the Kobe we are accustomed to seeing this late in the season.

From the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog: As he approached the small gathering of reporters following Sunday’s practice in El Segundo, Lakers forward Pau Gasol let out a smile. There’s not a better feeling knowing your Crest-kid friendly teeth no longer have braces, a two-and-a-half year venture that ended Thursday morning when they were removed just before the team’s trip to Phoenix. “Hopefully I don’t get popped in the mouth and lose a couple of teeth,” Gasol joked. A reporter had an immediate comeback, suggesting that may happen since he’s been throwing elbows lately, most notably his hard foul in the Lakers’ 102-96 victory Friday against the Phoenix Suns. In that game, Gasol made a hard foul with 5:06 remaining in the fourth quarter on Phoenix backup center Louis Amundson across his face after he received a pass from guard Steve Nash inside. Suns Coach Alvin Gentry ran to the mid-court line and immediately told officials they should’ve given Gasol a flagrant foul. Instead, they ejected Gentry, who had to be restrained from his coaching staff and Phoenix guard Jason Richardson.

From Land O’ Lakers: Friday, in detailing the shortcomings of the Lakers on the offensive side of the ball over the season’s first 65 games, I noted they still had the time and talent to turn things around. And while victories over the Raptors Tuesday night and Phoenix on Friday weren’t exactly dominant (though in regards to the Suns game, you won’t find me in the crowd complaining about any missing style points), they certainly marked steps in the right direction when it comes to scoring. Consecutive games with outputs ahead not only of this year’s 106 points per 100 possessions, but also last year’s mark of 109.8 (all numbers via Granted, neither opponent qualifies as a defensive juggernaut (or “juggerprettygood” for that matter), but beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a positive sign. Moreover, the Lakers will have a chance to continue finding their proverbial flow over their next four games, all against some of the league’s weakest sisters: At Golden State and Sacramento, then Minnesota and Washington at home.

From Yahoo Sports: Privately, people wonder: How many more passes does Kobe Bryant give Pau Gasol(notes) for speaking so boldly about him? How long until Bryant’s public and private reprisal comes with a ferocity that could bring a 7-footer to his knees? All season, Gasol has been a relentlessly consistent, if not passively aggressive, critic of the franchise star’s shooting habits, of an offense that doesn’t deliver him the ball with the frequency that he wants. Whatever the reasons, Gasol has been emboldened to speak his mind. Whatever the odds, Bryant has bit his lip and let it go. “I believe in what I believe,” Gasol said. Hours before Friday night’s victory over the Phoenix Suns, chatting on a chair inside U.S. Airways Center, Bryant let out a laugh and insisted there will be no public rebuttals. “I’m not touching that,” Bryant said with a smile and shrug.

From Basket Blog: After stopping a four-game road losing streak with a Friday night victory in Phoenix, the Lakers will look to build a streak in the other column when they head to Northern California for Monday-Tuesday road clashes with Golden State and Sacramento. On paper, the Warriors (18-47) and Kings (22-44) are among the league’s worst teams, the Lakers having already beaten the Kings twice and Warriors thrice. But both wins against Sacramento came down to the wire, first a 112-103 overtime victory in the state capital on Dec. 26 and second a 109-108 buzzer-beating win courtesy of Kobe Bryant’s three-pointer in front of the Kings’ bench. The victories came easier against Golden State (a total of 49 points, in fact), but the Warriors have played better at home of late, taking Portland down to the wire before a late loss on Thursday and defeating Toronto on Saturday.

From Warriors World: Quick Hits with Rey & Peter of Is Pau Gasol now the best player on the Lakers? Ha ha. Is this a trick question? Kobe Bryant still makes the Lakers go but they’re obviously both important to the team with Kobe being the perimeter presence and Gasol being the inside man. Pau is such a flower, though. I would like to see him toughen up and be physical on the inside… and I would like to see him jam the ball down someone’s throat. Gasol will never be a bruiser but he wasn’t scared of anything last year. This year, he’s reverted back to that ’soft’ form. And if I call Pau Gasol a flower, he’s far from being the best player of the team. Kobe continues to be nails in clutch situations, what do you think makes him so special in those particular situations? Kobe has nerves of steel. He lives for those moments and wants to take responsibility for that shot. Win or lose, it’s on him and he will take the burden. The Lakers have been in this situation many times and we all know that the four other Lakers are looking for him to take that shot. #24 will take the pressure off his teammates. Basically, he’s fearless. And while it’s thrilling to see all those game-winners, the Lakers really shouldn’t be in that situation many times in the first place.

– Phillip

Tomorrow the Lakers face the Warriors for the fourth and final time this season. If the Lakers can win on Monday evening in Oakland, it will be the second straight year that the Lakers have swept the season series versus the Dubs. Each of the three games has been a bit different – in one win Kobe went off for a season high 44 points, in another he didn’t even play, and in the other game six Lakers scored in double figures in a real balanced and team effort. We’ll get into more analysis tomorrow in the game preview, but for now here are the video highlights of the Lakers’ three wins against the Warriors this season. Enjoy.