Archives For April 2010

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Coming into this game, with the playoff seedings pretty much set and the Lakers knowing who they’d face in the first round (and that they wouldn’t catch Orlando for the league’s 2nd best record), I think the only thing that all Lakers fans were hoping for was an injury free game.  Well, they didn’t get it.  After raising up to shoot a jumpshot, Sasha Vujacic came down on Mardy Collins’ foot and sprained his ankle.  Severely.  And while the Machine rolled around, clutching his ankle, writhed in pain on the floor right in front of the Lakers’ bench, the atmosphere and tenor of this game changed.  Up to that point, the game was close and the Lakers – though not playing particularly well – were playing (relatively) hard in an effort to win the game.  However, after Sasha got helped to his feet and then hopped to the locker room with his arm draped around the neck of trainer Gary Vitti, that was no longer the case (at least for a good portion of the remaining minutes of the game) and it showed in a 107-91 win for the Clippers.

The Lakers, with nothing to really played for, started to play to not get injured.  And that was really the story of this game.  That, and the fact that the Clippers played their butts off in the final game of this regular season.  I mean, let’s give credit where credit is due.  Sure, the Lakers continued their recent penchant for playing one step forward, one step backward basketball in this game.  But the Clips just continued to move forward, got on a roll, and didn’t look back.  They ran the floor, shared the ball, knocked down jumpers, and played with a sense of purpose for the entire game.  The results were 7 Clippers ending the game in double figures, led by Steve Blake’s triple double (and team high 23 points) and Chris Kaman’s 22 points and 7 rebounds.  Before the game, Phil Jackson commented that this Clippers team (even without Baron Davis and Eric Gordon) had some talent and that they are set up nicely to be a good team next season.  But it didn’t take until next season for the Clips to flash some of that potential.  They took it to a Lakers team that was just looking for the game to be over as quickly as possible.

And I don’t really blame the Lakers.  They’re a banged up team.  Already playing without Kobe and Bynum while also dealing with Jordan Farmar’s tweaked hammy, the Phil was forced to play Odom and Gasol extended minutes in the second half because besides Sasha’s in-game injury it turns out that Ron also suffered a twist of his ankle and Luke’s back went tight on him.  So, if you were looking for the reasons behind Ammo starting the second half and Fisher, LO, and Pau all seeing extra court time in the final 24 minutes of a meaningless game, there you go.  Phil was down to 7 healthy players (if you count Shannon and his bad right thumb healthy) and even if the prudent course of action would have been to rest them, it would have been difficult to field a team of only Ammo, Powell, and Mbenga on the floor as I’m pretty sure a three man line up is not legal.

And while all was not bad for the Lakers – Pau and Odom combined for 39 points (on 26 shots) and grabbed 25 rebounds, while Shannon had another good night with a line of 18/5/3 – I’m pretty sure every player in the purple and gold jerseys would have preferred to have not even suited up for this one.  When you add the result of the game and the collateral damage that come from it, I’m not even sure if this game was worth the time that everyone who played, attended, and watched put into it (unless you are a Clips fan, then by all means enjoy this win).

So, this is how the regular season ends.  A blowout loss to the Clippers with an infirmary ward’s worth of players on the bench.  Not good times, to say the least.  But hear we are.  The playoffs start in four days and the Lakers have precious little time to get players healthy while still installing game plans for the Thunder.  As commenter JeremyLA24 said:

Moving foward is arguably going to be alot more strenuous than the past 82 games but I wish the best of luck to this Laker squad that still has the potential to be defending champions despite all of the injuries getting in their way.

Indeed.  Repeating was never going to be easy, but ready or not the journey starts on Sunday.  I think we can all agree that we hope the Lakers are healthy and ready for the challenge.

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Records: Lakers 57-24 (1st in West, 3rd in NBA), Clippers 28-53 (12th in West, 29 games back)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.9 (11th in NBA), Clippers 103.1 (28th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.6 (5th in NBA), Clippers 110.3 (23rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Clippers: Steve Blake, Rasual Butler, Travis Outlaw, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Kaman

The Lakers Coming in:  Despite the poor record down the stretch and the sub standard performances of late, there is optimism and excitement in the air.  The playoffs are about to begin and the Lakers are going to have the chance to defend their title.  Plus, things are starting to look up.  Gasol playing the best he has all season.  In last night’s game against the Kings, bench players stepped up their games and it turns out that Farmar is not as hurt as orignially thought.  Over the past two days, Andrew Bynum has been running on a treadmill, says that the pain is gone from his strained achilles, and plans to participate in today’s shootaround before the Clippers game.  And while Kobe is sitting out these last few games with his assortment of ailments, he’ll have ample rest before the Lakers next game (only playing the Portland game in the two weeks between the April 4th game vs. the Spurs and the likely Arpil 18th openener in the OKC series).  Whether or not it has actually showed in game performance, the Lakers are prepping for the post season and Phil was already talking about wrinkles that the team is working on in practice in preparation for the Thunder.  The time that the players and all us fans have been waiting for is finally here.  Game 82 is tonight, but the second season is set to begin.  I’m smiling just typing that.

The Clippers Coming in:  This is just a disappointing finish to an even more disappointing season.  The Clippers are 2-8 in their last ten games, are banged up, and aren’t playing with any sort of purpose or togetherness.  So rather than me sit here and explain what’s been going on with this team, I’ll let Kevin from TrueHoop and ClipperBlog do it for me.  In a post over at TrueHoop, Kevin explains (after quoting Clip’s coach Kim Hughes) that some of what’s been wrong with the Clips of late is the pending free agency of a lot of their players:

There are a bunch of guys on the Clippers roster who, at times, have acted as personal mercenaries, throwing up shots without even pretending to survey the floor for other opportunities. The substance of what Hughes and others around the team are saying is correct, but the underlying premise is problematic. The implication here is that a guy should play a losing brand of basketball in order to advance his career.

Consider that for a second.

In an effort to secure more money in the free agency market, players are jacking up shots with impunity, presumably to tally more points, irrespective of how efficiently those points are scored. The Clippers, who resided comfortably among the Top 5 teams in assist rate for much of the season, have plummeted in that category over the past few weeks.

Just a rough time for the Clippers.  Their organization is rudderless, their coach will likely not be retained, they’ll have a bunch of new players next year, and their fan base is just tired of it all.  I know you really can’t compare the two teams, but it’s crazy how different the fortunes of the Clippers and Lakers are.

Clippers BlogsClipperBlog is the place to go.  You should go there now.  As you can see above, Kevin is one of the most insightful analysts of the game on the web and D.J. also does excellent work.  There’s no other place I go to get great insight on the Clips.

Keys to game:  When questioned about the approach to last night’s game Lamar Odom said:

“I look at it, honestly, like we’re practicing against the other team. You want to run all the sets and do everything the right way. We want to play almost how we play in practice. It’s just a practice in front of 20,000 people. ” (via Land O’ Lakers)

When looking at tonight’s game, I expect the same type of mentality.  The Lakers want to play well and they’d surely like to win, but more importantly is doing things the right way.  The Lakers need to execute their sets and hopefully have the supplementary players build on the Kings game.

So against the Clips, the Lakers should do what they did last night – go into Pau on the low block, cut, screen, move the ball, and try to get a good shot every time down.  This is a game where Pau is actually facing a quality big man, so it will be a good test to see how he does against a big front line of Kaman/Jordan.  In the last few games, Pau has really shown more confidence in his mid range jumpshot and using that weapon will be key tonight.  Both Kaman and Jordan are good shot blockers around the rim and are big bodies that can deny Pau the position that he likes.  So if Pau can knock down his 15 foot jumper it will help him in his overall attack.  I’d also like to see more interior screening to free Pau when moving through the lane.  Last night in the first period, there was a concerted effort to set more screens for Pau and they were effective in getting him that extra step of separation to establish his position.

On defense, the Lakers will need to be active on the their defensive glass to deny the Clippers second chance points.  The Clips are throwing out a pretty big line up tonight (even Blake is listed at 6’3″ and both Butler and Outlaw are in the 6’7″ range) so gang rebounding will be key.  The Lakers wings can’t leave all the rebounding duties to Gasol and Odom, they’ll need to close down the FT line and get their hands dirty in going for the basketball.

But really, this game is just about getting through healthy and unscathed in preparation for this weekend.  This game doesn’t mean anything for the standings (unless the Magic go down to the 76ers, and even then we’re talking about a potential Finals matchup – not exactly the most pressing situation), so the Lakers should only be looking to play solid basketball and see what comes of it.  Enjoy the last regular season game, everyone.

Where you can watch:  7:30pm start in the west on KCAL (the Lakers are the road team).  Also on ESPN Radio 710am.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Lakers

You can’t tell me that Ron Artest hasn’t placed his stamp on this team.

THE BLOGS

From Silver Screen and Roll: The only thing I was really hoping to write in regard to tonight’s Lakers game, a 106 to 100 mercy-killing of the Sacramento Kings, is that no one got hurt. Was that really too much to ask? Yep, apparently so. Jordan Farmar left the game in the second quarter with a strained left hamstring. It was initially reported that he wouldn’t play tomorrow night against the Clippers, but we’re now hearing that he will. Why risk it? The Lakers will desperately need his three-point shooting in the playoffs, not to mention the defensive help he’d provide against Russell Westbrook. Let Jordan heal fully. In the meantime, his minutes can be soaked up by the likes of Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic.

From Bleacher Report: Some people have been saying whether or not these Lakers are better without Kobe or not. Well I don’t think so. The Lakers are actually worse. But why do they have a good record without him? Like I said before. The Lakers don’t put much effort since they played Cleveland. Why Am i so hard on them? Because as a Laker fan, I have to be critical of them and I analyze their problems. Their problem is their effort. I even talked about this last year in the Playoffs. They think after getting back from a deficit like the Christmas game, that they can relax and then they start shooting 3’s. Anyway I’m getting off topic. Are the Lakers better? No.

From Land O’ Lakers: Asked Tuesday afternoon at shootaround what could be learned from tonight’s game against the Kings along with tomorrow’s “visit” to the Clippers, Phil Jackson scrumpled (new word!) his face, looking for an answer before finally copping to the truth. Not much. Not gonna lie: That sort of candor takes a little bit of the shine off the apple, you know? He might as well have recommended we all stay home and watch “Lost.”

THE PAPERS

From the Los Angeles Times: Instead of frowns, there were smiles. Instead of tears, there were laughs. Instead of lamenting the team’s latest performances, the Lakers asked everyone, namely the media, to calm down. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said the team’s 2-5 slide is “way overblown.” Lakers forward Lamar Odom teased reporters for constantly using the word, “concern,” during their line of questioning in a five-minute interview. Lakers forward Pau Gasol downplayed a suggestion that someone on the team should speak up about the team’s current struggles, saying, “It is not a time for going crazy here.” And Lakers guard Derek Fisher said the team’s recent woes won’t fracture the team apart.

From the Los Angeles Times: After 48 minutes of plug-nickel basketball, the Lakers beat Sacramento, 106-100, Tuesday night in their final home regular season game at Staples Center.  Not that it mattered all that much. The Lakers had already clinched the top seed in the Western Conference and home court advantage throughout the playoffs Friday against Minnesota. After knocking off the Kings, only the Clippers’ game Wednesday stands between the Lakers and their first-round match-up against Oklahoma City this weekend.

From the OC Register: The Lakers will be at Staples Center on Wednesday night, hoping and praying that Baron Davis doesn’t infect them with anything and no one runs into Blake Griffin in the hallway. The Lakers didn’t survive their penultimate regular-season game Tuesday night without yet another injury: Jordan Farmar strained his left hamstring early in the Lakers’ largely meaningless 106-100 victory over the Sacramento Kings. The finale against the Clippers can only mean something for the Lakers if they win and Orlando loses tonight against visiting Philadelphia. Orlando MVP candidate Dwight Howard will be playing his 82nd game in 82 tries as the Magic hopes to lock up the home-court advantage it lacked against the Lakers last June.

ESPN AND NBA

From ESPN.com: Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum said Tuesday he had no ill effects from his workout Monday afternoon in El Segundo. He plans to continue his recovery from a left Achilles tendon injury this afternoon in an effort to return to game action when the Lakers open the playoffs against Oklahoma City this weekend. Bynum ran for 20 minutes Monday on a special anti-gravity treadmill with the ability to lessen the body weight of an athlete and limiting leg strain while the player is rehabilitating an injury. Yesterday he “took about 30 pounds off” and plans on running without any weight restrictions in his next session.

From ESPN Los Angeles: Lamar Odom replaced Andrew Bynum in the starting lineup when the big man went down with an Achilles injury 11 games ago and more recently has replaced Bynum as the Lakers’ resident pregame bookworm, as he’s taken to reading the self-help book “The Secret” in the locker room prior to tipoff. Based on his comments after Monday’s practice, it seemed as if Odom has been reading “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

From NBA.com: In what was their final regular-season home game, the Lakers — already shorthanded without Kobe Bryant — used every available player and had to re-insert the starting lineup late in the game. The Kings, who won seven road games all season, whittled the Lakers’ double-digit lead to four in the final minute. But it was Pau Gasol and Shannon Brown who gave the Lakers an extra push down the stretch as they went on to pull out a 106-100 victory against the Kings. Brown’s performance couldn’t come at a better time. Mired in a slump because of a torn ligament and bone bruise in his right thumb, Brown managed to cobble together his best game in nearly two months.

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Coming into this game, we all knew that the outcome didn’t count towards anything and that it may affect the intensity level of the players.  So, in a game that felt like a scrimmage, it’s only appropriate that two of the Lakers back up players stepped up their games.  Pau Gasol may have paced the Lakers in this victory, but it was Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic that were the secondary key contributors that drove home the win, 106-100 in the Lakers’ favor.

Stepping in for the injured/resting Kobe Bryant, Shannon did his best Bean impersonation by pouring in 24 points on a team high 19 shots and 61.7% true shooting.  But it wasn’t just the points, it was the way that he got them.  Shannon brought back some of the WOW plays that gets every fan out of their seat with two tremendous dunks and an “and 1″ finish on a fast break where he elevated, took the hit, and then switched hands for a sweet lefty finish.  And in the half court, he was also very efficient on his mid range jumper – knocking down several good, in rhythm outside shots that reminds us as to why the coaches show such patience with him.  And then there was Sasha.  Finally out of the doghouse, the Machine made a reappearance with some heady play and a solid all around performance.  Sasha scored a season high 13 points on 5 of 9 from the field.  He also grabbed 6 rebounds (4 offensive – including two great put backs), 2 assists, and a steal in his 26 minutes.  This wasn’t necessarily an other worldly performance by Sasha, but it was very good to see him get extended minutes and play under control.  This is the type of performance that supporters of Vujacic think he’s capable of so it was nice to see him deliver when given the chance.

But even though Sasha and Shannon stole the show, the headlining act was still Pau Gasol.  We’re now at the point where it’s easy to say that Pau is playing his best ball of the season – and it couldn’t be coming at a better time as the playoffs approach.  Another strong offensive night with 28 points on 12 for 15 from the field for Gasol.  And while he had a relatively quiet night on the glass (only 8 rebounds tonight), he did have 3 assists, a block, and many other shots altered as he controlled the paint on both ends of the court against an undersized Kings front court.  Pau just continues to show his overall skill level and it really is a great thing to see him start to raise his game as the regular season closes.  I think that after missing those regular season games and then having Kobe sit out recently that Pau is finally finding his stride on offense as his timing seems to be getting better and all facets of his offensive game are coming together.

But not everything was all good for the Lakers tonight.  Jordan Farmar left the game in the 2nd quarter with a tweaked hamstring and did not return.  And even though it’s now being reported that Farmar has a chance of playing in tomorrow’s season finale against the Clippers, it’s never a good thing to have a questionable hammy as the Lakers will need him for an extended playoff run.  And there was the shooting performance of Ron Artest.  It hasn’t been talked about much recently, but Ron is really struggling with his offensive game lately – especially his three point shooting.  He’s now down to 36% from downtown this season and has fallen behind both Farmar and Vujacic as the Lakers’ most accurate shooter of the long ball.  His percentage from deep has been falling since the beginning of March and with another 0-3 night from behind the arc against the Kings, this is now getting a bit worrisome.  Granted, Ron is still doing a lot of other things well – his defense is still top notch, his rebounding is steady, and his assist numbers are solid – so overall he’s still a positive player for the team (as evidenced by his team high +14 on the night).  But in the post season it would be very nice if he could find his comfort level on offense.

As for the Kings, there isn’t much to say besides the fact that they fought hard all the way to the end of this game.  With only a couple of minutes left in the contest they were still making shots and at one point cut the Lakers’ lead down to 4 points.  But, they just didn’t have enough to break through.  Especially since they didn’t have their best player, due to prized rookie Tyreke Evans getting tossed out of the game arguing a non-call on a made lay up.  Rookies are rarely players that have earned the right to show up or shout at the officials and in this case Evans was no different than any other first year player (regardless of his status as one of the leagues better talents).  So in game #82 for the Kings, Evans hit the showers early and watched from the locker room as his team fell short for the tenth time in eleven games.

In the end, this was a game that had little meaning but still one that can be used as a stepping stone for many of our players.  I already mentioned Sasha and Shannon having some much needed success in extended minutes.  But there was also the performance of Luke Walton who logged 24 minutes (his most minutes all season) and did a very good job of initiating our sets and keeping the offense moving when he was on the floor.  At one point, Luke shared the floor with Farmar, Morrison, LO, and DJ and played a key role in getting everyone involved and organized on offense.  And speaking of Congo Cash, Mbenga also had another good game and made his case for being the 4th big man when the playoffs start.  All in all, this was a good night that yielded a positive result with the Lakers earning their 57th win of the season.  And while everything wasn’t perfect, I can’t complain about that.

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Records: Lakers 56-24 (1st in West, 3rd in NBA), Kings 25-56 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.8 (11th in NBA), Kings 105.3 (22nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.5 (5th in NBA), Kings 109.8 (20th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Kings: Tyreke Evans, Beno Udrih, Andres Nocioni, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson

The Lakers Coming in:  With everyone now looking forward to a match up to OKC, it’s tough to get excited for the remaining games of the regular season.  The playoffs looming only coumpounds the lack of emotional investment in these remaining games as Lakers now have nothing to play for in terms of playoff seedings.  They are likely locked into the third best record in the NBA (barring horrible losses by Orlando) and the #1 seed out west has been clinched since Friday.  It also doesn’t help that the Lakers are playing mediocre teams that are in no way measuring sticks for what they’ll face in the post season.  You add all of those factors to Kobe sitting, Bynum sitting, and Phil stating that the starters will not be over extended and what we have are games that define meaningless.

That said, the Lakers should have strong desires to win these last two games.  They’ve lost six of their last nine and are really faltering down the stretch.  So, while the Kings tonight (and the Clips tomorrow) don’t represent anything more than place holder opponents on the calendar, these games should be taken seriously with the effort given to compete and get some positive results going into the playoffs.  Especially for our back up guards.  Shannon, Sasha, and Farmar will all be needed at one point or another in the post season and with Kobe sitting they’ll get plenty of run in these last two games.  I, for one, would like to see them take advantage and play well.

The Kings Coming in:  At this point in the season, the Kings have little to play for besides getting their star rookie some extra accolades in his pursuit of the ROY award.  So while the Kings are 1 and 9 in their last 10 games, Tyreke Evans has been playing strong ball and padding his stellar statistics.  In last night’s game against the Rockets, Evans clinched season averages of 20 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds and joins the elite group of Jordan, the Big O, and Lebron as the only rookies to accomplish this feat.  But the Kings still lost.  Surely, that probably has less to do with Evans and more to do with the overall talent on the Kings.  But it must be said that as impressed as I am with Tyreke (and I am very impressed), these accomplishments (as great as they are) mean less when the Kings lose than they will when his team is racking up the wins in the same way that he carves out driving lanes to the rim.

Kings Blogs:  Go read what Zach is putting up at Cowbell Kingdom.  Also give a visit to Sactown Royalty for news from CA’s team from the Capital.

Keys to game:  Tonight is a game where the Lakers must take advantage of Gasol’s advantage in the post.  With Spencer Hawes sidelined, the Kings are starting Jason Thompson (an undersized PF) at Center and backing him up with John Brockman and Sean May.  And while these guys are battlers that will try to bang on Gasol to deny him good post position, they are not a true impediment to Pau scoring on the block.  The Lakers need to exploit these match ups repeatedly by throwing the ball into the post and letting Gasol go to work – especially when you consider how well he’s been playing of late.  Once the ball is Pau’s hands, he can be the main decision maker by looking for cutters and passing out of the inevitable double teams. 

Defensively, the Lakers must concern themselves with slowing Tyreke Evans.  As I mentioned, he’s an elite rookie and the Lakers saw first hand what type of player he is on offense when these teams last met (Evans just missed a triple double with a line of 25 points, 9 assists, 11 rebounds).  As in that last match up, I expect Artest to see a lot of time on Evans and hopefully he can duplicate the disruptive effort that he inflicted on the Kings rookie. We’ll see if Tyreke can do a better job at cracking the code of Artest’s defense tonight.

The other points of emphasis for this game is to just play hard and smart.  As mentioned before, this game means little to the Lakers in terms of playoff opponent or seeding but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a spring board for better play.  And while the Lakers are missing key performers, that only opens up opportunities for other players to get minutes and find their comfort level heading into the post season.  If the Lakers are intent on playing half heartedly, they can (and likely will) lose this game.  However, if they play with purpose and with more than just a casual adherence to the game plan, the should win.  So, even though there’s little riding on this one, I’m anxious to see what Lakers team shows up tonight.  The match up with OKC can wait, for now it’s the Kings and that is all that should matter.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start in the west on Fox Sports.  Also on ESPN Radio 710am.

Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder

Well, we know who the Lakers will have in the first round of the playoffs. The Portland Trailblazers, even without Brandon Roy, were able to take care of the Oklahoma City Thunder, creating a Lakers/Thunder first round match up. Much has been said about the Lakers struggles down the stretch, but since the Thunder dismantled the Lakers at the end of March, the Thunder have only played .500 basketball. Kevin Durant looks as if he’s going to take home his first, of what promises to be many, scoring titles in only his third year in the league since it doesn’t look like LeBron will be participating in any basketball until Cleveland’s first playoff game.

From Land O’ Lakers: Earlier, I dropped a few nuggets from Andrew Bynum’s meeting with the media Monday in El Segundo regarding his balky left Achilles tendon. Below is the entirety of the exchange. It was good to see Bynum in gym clothes having built up a sweat. As most of you know, I try to avoid making projections about returns from injury, particularly when it comes to Bynum, preferring instead to see evidence of recovery.

From Land O’ Lakers: Earlier, I passed along the news Kobe Bryant will sit out the final two games of the regular season, the official reason being an “avulsion fracture of the right index finger.” Unofficially, he could use said finger to point to all the other body parts bothering him throughout the year. Bryant has fought ankle, knee, groin, elbow, and back trouble, plus flu (stomach/normal) and other maladies we probably don’t know about. He just sat out two games thanks to the knee, and is (over an admittedly small sample size) shooting 30 percent in three April games.

From the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog: Shortly after proclaiming to reporters Sunday he would play the Lakers’ final two regular-season games, guard Kobe Bryant sent a text message at 8 p.m. to Lakers Coach Phil Jackson that suggested otherwise. Said Jackson: “It said he probably shouldn’t play the last two games with the way he felt.” That means the next time Bryant suits up will be Game 1 of the first round of the NBA playoffs, an absence a team spokesman said was because of Bryant’s four-month-old fractured right index finger.

Practice Report from Lakers.com (With Video): The most significant news out of Monday afternoon’s practice was (as it often is) on the injury front. We learned that Kobe Bryant will not play in L.A.’s final two regular season games – on Tuesday against Sacramento and Wednesday against the Clippers – in part to rest the avulsion fracture in his right index finger. Furthermore, Andrew Bynum said that he is feeling no pain in the left Achilles that’s kept him out of L.A.’s last 11 games. Due in part to those two injuries, Phil Jackson downplayed the team’s struggles of late, including three losses in four games.

From Momma There Goes That Man: Sometimes, I wish Pau Gasol would get the credit he deserves. Undervalued. Unfairly labeled. Unjustifiably  criticized. Undeniably one of the 10 best players in the NBA. Conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that, if the bottom of the four statements were true, then the three statements above it should not be true. However, all four of them are true. He’s undervalued by the Lakers fan base, unfairly labeled as soft by pundits who never spent a possession on the low block and he’s unjustifiably criticized by anyone who expects him to do even more than what he already does.

From Silver Screen and Roll: The identity of the Lakers’ first-round opponent has been revealed. With their loss tonight to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Oklahoma City Thunder fall to the eighth seed in the West and are rewarded with a weekend visit to Los Angeles. Prepare yourself for a great many Durant vs. Kobe stories over the next several days. The Lakers and Thunder have played four times this season, with the Lakers thrice prevailing. In their most recent meeting, on March 26, OKC did sick and unnatural things to L.A., winning 91 to 75. The Thunder led by 33 at the end of the third quarter of that game. The schedule of the teams’ upcoming playoff series has not yet been announced, though I suspect Game One will be on Sunday afternoon.

From the OC Register: Andrew Bynum emerged from the trainer’s room at the Lakers facility Monday, sweat dripping off his forehead. He had just finished 20 hard minutes on anti-gravity treadmill, the first time he has attempted a treadmill since pulling up lame March 19 with a strained left Achilles’ tendon. Bynum, who has missed 11 games and will not play in the final two, is looking to beef up his conditioning so that he can return to the Lakers’ lineup for the first game of the playoffs, expected to be Sunday.

From the LA Daily News: Full disclosure, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories in general. Oswald killed Kennedy. Alone. Ruby killed Oswald. Alone. That’s what I believe. You can’t change my mind. Now, about Sunday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. … I have no evidence for what I’m about to suggest. Just tossing a theory out there for you gentle readers to chew on. It starts with a question. Do you think the Lakers dumped the game in order to avoid the Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs? If you’re the Lakers, wouldn’t you rather face the inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder than the Blazers or the San Antonio Spurs? Beating Portland Sunday would have all but ensured a Lakers-Blazers matchup.

From SLAM Online: The Lakers/Thunder first round Playoff series became a reality last night in Portland, but the strange ending to their game against the Blazers on Sunday, the Daily News wonders if that’s what L.A. wanted all along: “If you’re the Lakers, wouldn’t you rather face the inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder than the Blazers or the San Antonio Spurs? Beating Portland Sunday would have all but ensured a Lakers-Blazers matchup. Let’s review. Kobe Bryant shanks two free throws. Derek Fisher bricks one of two. Bryant makes 81 percent and Fisher 85 percent. So that’s plenty weird, right?

From Off The Dribble: The Warriors’ 116-107 victory over the Timberwolves on Wednesday night gave Coach Don Nelson victory No. 1,333, the most for an N.B.A. coach. He passed Lenny Wilkens, who won 1,332 games over 32 seasons.So does that victory mean that Nelson is the greatest coach in N.B.A. history, or the best coach in the league now? Even the most ardent Nelson supporter would be hard pressed to make either argument.

From Lakers Nation: The world we live in always presents us with choices. There are individual rivalries that present different sides which we all stand on, and will be quick to tell everyone why one particular side is much better than the other. The examples are endless, Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson, Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird, Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, and of course Kobe vs. LeBron. However, the rivalries extend far beyond the reaches of reality and stretch into the world of imagination. Perhaps the most popular of these fictional rivalries is the constant debate regarding Batman and Superman.

From Sporting News: Their best player is nursing a bevy of injuries, their 22-year-old center has missed the last 11 games and the team has dropped six of nine. Still, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers aren’t concerned their recent stumble will impact them come playoff time. With Kobe Bryant out for the last two regular-season games and Andrew Bynum also likely sidelined, the Lakers close out the home portion of their schedule Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak at Staples Center in two years.

From the OC Register Lakers Blog: On paper, this should be an easy victory for the Lakers. The Kings, eliminated from playoff contention a while ago, have lost 11 of their past 13 games and won only 25 total games. But the Lakers have become unpredictable, losing to the most unlikely of opponents. The Lakers will be looking for a measure of momentum in their final two games and victories against the Kings and Clippers on Wednesday could help them. Kobe Bryant (finger) and Andrew Bynum (Achilles tendon) are out for the Lakers, while the Kings are without Spencer Hawes (knee) and Dominic McGuire (plantar fasciitis).

No Rest For The Weary

Darius Soriano —  April 12, 2010

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As we look at the calendar, the Lakers likely have six more days until their first playoff game.  While the schedules have not been released and no one knows for sure when the Lakers will play, I would bet that a Sunday matinee – where the league gets its most exposure – ends up being when the NBA decides to have one of the league’s marquee franchises play its first game of the opening round.  In terms of days off, that week could be useful to some of our aching players that need some time to rest up.  However, in those six days the Lakers have two more regular season games – back to back contests against the Kings and Clippers on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Many are arguing for Phil to sit key players so that they can be as fresh as possible going into the post season.  As has been stated many times before, this Lakers team looks tired.  They’ve played more games than any other team in the past two plus seasons (two trips to the Finals) and its key players (Kobe and Gasol) have also spent their summers playing for their respective country’s national teams.  So after year round basketball for what is going on the third straight calendar year, some rest could come in handy.  Right?

Well, it looks like that rest is not going to happen.  When asked if his starters would get any run in the upcoming games, Phil Jackson confirmed that they would.  From after the loss to Portland yesterday:

“They’ll play. They won’t play heavy minutes, but they’ll certainly play. We’ll play guys in the minutes they’re accustomed to, 30 minutes hopefully, at least. So that they get the work and we’ll try to keep guys out of 40 minute games.”

And, for what it’s worth, this is what the players want.  When asked how his knee  felt after not playing in a couple of games, Kobe said:

“It feels pretty good.  It’s a little rusty, a little stiff from not playing, not being active. I’ll be fine. That’s why it’s important to get out there and play a little bit, loosen up the joints a little bit . . . It’s OK. It feels strong.”

And Gasol has also gone on the record stating that he’d prefer to get some more court time in over ther final week of the regular season.  Rest be damned, these guys want to do what they do as proffesional players – lace up their sneakers and go compete.  And while fans may think that this isn’t the best option for aging players that don’t look to be at their physical best, understand that this is nothing new.  Below is something that I wrote almost a year ago today:

As the team prepares for another deep playoff run, there are two major issues that are on the minds of every fan.  First, are the Lakers playing well enough right now for that deep run?  In recent weeks the team has not played anywhere near it’s best basketball.  The bench is a shadow of the group that many pundits and fans hailed as the league’s best second unit.  Plus, the starters have looked disjointed – not running the offense with precision and not playing the level of defense you would expect from the NBA’s sixth ranked team in defensive efficiency.  Overall, the team is playing uninspired for major stretches of every game.  Which leads us to the second concern – are the Lakers going to rest it’s best players to gear up for the pursuit of that elusive championship?  Every fan can tell that this team is not only a bit bored, but it’s tired.  When Kobe, maybe the best conditioned athlete in the league, is shooting flat jumpers (even by his standards) and lacking explosion to finish around the basket you know that the entire team could use some time away from the game to rest weary legs.

Sounds familiar right?  Now, I’m not trying to say that this season is exactly like last season.  Last years team had a better record at this point in the season (even though they had, coincidentally, lost a game to Portland in game #80) and had some signature wins throughout the year that gave even the most pessimistic fans something to hang their hats on.  There was also the hunger factor of coming off a Finals defeat the season before that loomed large in the memory of every player on the roster (save Shannon and Ammo).  This current team has not had those same experiences and has none of those factors going for it. 

All that said, I find solace that this team has been through this situation before.  And while nothing is guaranteed – not a healthy return of Bynum, the bench playing better, or the outside shots starting to fall – I’m still content with where this team is.  Yes, things are seemingly worse than ever.  This team is wounded.  But, as the old saying goes, a wounded animal is a dangerous one.  In past years, regardless of the circumstances or the talent available, this team has responded when its back is against the wall.  So even though things are seemingly at the lowest point imanginable, the playoffs are coming and the Lakers get to participate.  They get the chance to play a single team multiple times and play the ultimate chess game.  And with that being the case, I like this teams’ chances.  Call me too optimistic, but I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.  And rest or no rest, I think this team will be ready.

UPDATE:  Well, so much for that.  In an effort to ruin my ability to be timely with what I write, Kobe will sit out the last two regular season games against the Kings and Clippers.  However, to not prove me completely wrong, the Lakers are claiming it’s his mangled finger that is causing him to sit out the games and not his knee.  While I still believe what the core of this post was about, I do feel good that Kobe is going to get some time off.  Not so much for the tired legs factor (I honestly don’t think any of this rest will be more beneficial than the time off between games that he’ll get during the playoffs), but because this will get our bench guards some extra playing time and hopefully create a comfort level for them in the post season.  Last year (and in the year prior) the Lakers reserves were quite comfortable in their roles by the time the post season arrived.  They may not have been playing any better than they are now, but they at least had a season’s worth of stable minutes in order to be ready for what awaited them in the playoffs.  So with Kobe now sitting out, Sasha, Shannon, and Farmar should all get plenty of minutes to find a groove.

Kobe Bryant calls for the ball against Blazers' Webster in Los Angeles

I spent the better part of my day yesterday on the road back from San Francisco, so I ended up missing the game live. While compiling some of these links and after reading Darius’ post, I had to put in the tape and watch the fourth quarter. As of right now, I still haven’t seen the first three quarters of the game, but here are a few notes from what I got in the fourth quarter:

– Pau Gasol had 19 and 10 going into the fourth quarter and that immediately stood out to me. Gasol has been on an absolute tear lately. In the Lakers last five games, he’s averaged 24.8 points and 12.6 rebounds and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting 60 percent from the field and 79 percent from the line. That 79 percent looks even better knowing that he’s also been to the line 8.6 times per game during that same five game stretch.

– Kobe’s last three games have almost been the complete opposite. Yeah, he’s scored at least 20 in all three of them, but it’s been 25 points on 23 shots; 22 points on 24; shots and 20 points on 23 shots. Not only has his shooting been down from the field, but he’s only shooting 74 percent from the free-throw line in this games. He just doesn’t seem to have the legs he needs to elevate over defenders on his jumper and explode past guys to get to the rim. JVG argued that the Lakers are going to need him to be great to get back to the Finals. I don’t completely agree with that sentiment, but they are going to need better performances from him if the Lakers are going to beat Cleveland, Orlando or even Boston in a seven game series.

– As bad as the Lakers have been playing, it’s become clear to me that the Lakers are still the last team in the West that any of these teams want to play. San Antonio, Denver, and now Portland have come out with a one-and-done mentality against a Lakers team that is seemingly going through the motions. I’m still not quite sure where I stand on the Lakers mentality down the stretch.

– The events that happened at the end of the game were baffling to say the least. After Kobe does his Kobe thing to eliminate a five-point deficit with a one-point lead, they give up an offensive rebound to Marcus Canby to put Portland back up by one. Kobe comes down the floor and Martel Webster commits a terrible foul to put Kobe on the line. Kobe misses both, but just seconds after JVG finishes talking about the importance of the defensive team to grab rebounds after free-throws, the Lakers get the offensive rebound and Derek Fisher is fouled. Fish misses the first (WHAT IS GOING ON?) then nails the second – right before he nails Martel Webster behind the three point line – AS HE’S SHOOTING. Webster knocks down all three of the freebies before the Lakers call a timeout to set up one last play. Now, I just got done watching this play about seven or eight times and I’m absolutely positive that the Gasol three is what Phil drew up. Kobe starts out at the top of the of the three-point arch and comes down to set a screen with LO inbounding. Gasol is on the right block and sets a screen for Fisher cutting across the baseline to the right corner. After he sets the screen for Fish, he cuts to the top of the key. Kobe, after he sets his screen, begins sealing off his man getting in rebound position, knowing he isn’t getting the ball. After LO throws it in, he just walks on the court and watches, knowing that isn’t going back to him either. The last minute of that game was just plain ridiculous.

To start off the links, Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook does a great job of detailing that final possession for the Lakers.

From NBA Playbook: After a series of really bone-headed plays where we saw two fouls that shouldn’t of happened (Martell Webster’s foul to give when the Blazers didn’t have one/Derek Fisher’s foul on a three point shot), the Lakers were down three points with about three seconds left.  The Lakers have 4 three point threats on the court in Sasha Vujacic, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, and of course Kobe Bryant.  Instead of running a play for one of those guys, Phil Jackson decided to run one for Pau Gasol who was 0-4 from the three-point line before the play started

From Land O’ Lakers: A lot of things happened Sunday afternoon at Staples in L.A.’s 91-88 loss to the Blazers, some requiring a little reflection.  One, though, does not: It will be difficult to find a stranger seven seconds of basketball than the final ticks of this afternoon’s game, no matter how hard you look. The Lakers, who had in the fourth quarter against the Blazers scored all of four points over the first 8:30 of play, played well enough on the other end to keep themselves in it, then used a deep Kobe Bryant three-pointer to pull within two with 49 seconds to play and went ahead on a Bryant driving layup and free throw about 20 seconds later. This isn’t the strange part, given how commonplace nature of the Kobe Komeback. No, the rabbit hole stuff was still to come.

From Silver Screen and Roll: So much for a quiet, boring end to the regular season. It might be getting about time for the 2010 Lakers to head home, but like a belligerent drunk at last call, they’re determined not to go calmly into the night. They’re resolved to turn over as many tables and break as much glass as possible on their way out the door. Their antics are likely to embarrass themselves and anyone in the vicinity who happens to be watching. Undergarments might or might not be soiled. Who needs dignity anyway?

From Basket Blog: The Lakers may have locked up home court advantage throughout the Western Conference Playoffs with Friday evening’s win at Minnesota, but that didn’t take the intrigue out of Sunday afternoon’s contest against potential first-round playoff opponent Portland. In fact, it’s hard to draw up a more dramatic, or more strange, final minute of regulation in which the Blazers appeared to have the game locked up … then lost … and finally won again, 91-88.

From the Los Angeles Times: A funny thing happened to the Lakers on their way to the playoffs — Oh, sorry, I just had something caught in my throat. That’s what happened to the Lakers too. In the last six seconds of Sunday’s game, Kobe Bryant missed two free throws, Derek Fisher missed one and Fisher then fouled Portland’s Martell Webster while he shot a three-pointer, sending Webster to the line for the three free throws that won the game, 91-88. On the bright side for the Lakers, they may not have to worry about losing to Portland in the first round!

From the OC Register: Their best player said he was “very concerned” about the team’s recent slide. Yet Kobe Bryant was laughing during the final timeout. Their starting point guard admitted “our margin for error isn’t as big as it’s been in the past.” Yet Derek Fisher was smiling after his crushing error – a missed free throw – in the closing seconds. Their coach conceded that “no, no,” none of his previous 10 championship teams have finished a season this out of sorts. Yet Phil Jackson designed a last-chance play to get a three-point shot for a player who has made one three-pointer in two years.

From ESPN’s Daily Dime: Even with Brandon Roy sitting out the second half with a knee injury Sunday, the Portland Trail Blazers still beat the Los Angeles Lakers. And that might be the worst thing that happened to them. By beating L.A. 91-88, the Blazers decreased their chances of facing the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, thus decreasing the chances of facing the coldest postseason-bound team in the West, a squad with a cold-shooting superstar, shaky defensive rotations and injury concerns of its own.

From Portland Roundball Society: Martell Webster showed the signs of battle. His left foot soaking in a tub of ice while his right was wrapped. But they hurt a little less, the small forward said, because of the way things came together. After committing a silly foul on Kobe Bryant, something coach Nate McMillan dubbed a “miscommunication,” Webster got the chance to redeem himself. But it wasn’t a selfish thing. What Webster Sunday was for Brandon Roy, who watched from the training room with an injured right knee. Even more so, it was for his team. And he was ready. Before Sunday’s game Webster got a text message from his dad. It said: “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.”

From the Los Angeles Times: Kobe Bryant returned to the lineup, but the confounding ways of the Lakers came back too. Where to begin, other than that the Lakers lost again, this time to the undermanned Portland Trail Blazers, 91-88, and it wasn’t even in Portland. There were missed free throws, bad shots and, curiously, an obvious lack of desire, the part that’s of greatest interest this time of year. After all, the Lakers’ first playoff game is expected to be next Sunday. All-Star guard Brandon Roy didn’t play the second half because of a sprained right knee, and the Lakers couldn’t do anything about it Sunday at Staples Center.

From the LA Daily News: The Lakers put on a clinic on how to lose a game in the closing seconds Sunday afternoon, when they went haywire down the stretch against the Portland Trail Blazers. They missed free throws, committed an unwise foul and missed a shot at the buzzer. All of it happened after they started the fourth quarter by going scoreless for more than five minutes of a tight game. Their scoring drought happened after they started with good intentions and then settled into their all-too-familiar low gear.

From Ball Don’t Lie: There are a few hard and fast rules to consider when watching Kobe Bryant play basketball. First, just assume anything is within the realm of possibility for Kobe when he’s on the court. That way, when he does something unbelievable you don’t go in to cardiac arrest. You should also probably know that nine out of ten times, Kobe is taking the game’s last shot. Of those nine shots, probably four of them are going in, even if they seem like a terrible look. Just be prepared. And probably the most important, especially if you happen to be a broadcaster, never tell Kobe Bryant he can’t do something because he’ll make you look silly on national television.

From ESPN.com: Kobe Bryant won’t be missing any more games this season to rest his legs and swollen right knee. He plans on playing when the Lakers close the regular season with a back-to-back Tuesday against Sacramento and Wednesday against the Clippers to “sharpen up” and said “we want to win both of these games.” Bryant’s shot could certainly use a little sharpening. Bryant shot just 8-for-23 on Sunday after sitting out the Lakers last two games in hopes of getting back the lift in his legs that was lacking and affecting the trajectory of his attempts. Bryant’s shot total in the last three games he’s played in is an alarming 21-for-70 (30 percent).

From ESPN’s E:60 Program: Kobe Goes Home – Although he was a suburban Philadelphia high school basketball standout, Kobe Bryant has never enjoyed a warm relationship with his hometown and has often been booed when his Lakers have played the 76ers. Reporter Lisa Salters goes back to Philadelphia with Bryant where they visit some of his favorite places and learn that the estranged relationship may be warming. (Note: This program will air on ESPN this coming Tuesday, April 13th, at 4 p.m.)