Archives For November 2010

For the third consecutive game the final buzzer has sounded with the Lakers trailing on the scoreboard.  This time it was a two point defeat as the Lakers fell to the Grizzlies 98-96 in a game that might as well been a replay from Sunday’s game against the Pacers.  Because while the details of the game were a bit different, the Lakers again showed up and down effort against a game opponent and tried to make a push in the closing minutes that fell just short.  There was even a botched last possession at the end of the game to make tonight’s game look even more familiar.

In the end, some wordy explanation as to what occurred in this game isn’t really needed.  As I mentioned in the game preview the Lakers aren’t clicking on either side of the ball and to a certain extent they’re their own worst enemy right now.

Against the Grizz the Lakers would forego running their offense to instead run isolation sets where nearly every other Laker stood around watching his mate with the ball try to score one on one.  Mind you this approach will work just fine when the offensive player is making shots. But in those cases it really just masks the fact that the execution isn’t quite right.  But on nights like tonight where Kobe is struggling to knock down jumpers (9-25 from the field, 1-6 from behind the arc) and Gasol isn’t his normal efficient self either (5-13 from the field), the Lakers need to do a better job of executing their sets by hitting the open man on time, setting hard screens, and cutting hard.  In essence, they need to to a better job of helping each other because the tactic of attacking man up just isn’t working.  And tonight against the Grizzlies, that one on one approach only led to forced jumpers where players looked for the individual talent of their guys to bail out the team rather than working together to get the types of shots that are usually going to be more efficient.

The other byproduct of the Lakers offensive approach tonight was how their sloppiness and ineffectiveness led to equally average results on defense.  Too many times the Lakers’ missed shots led to run outs for Memphis going the other way where easy baskets were earned in transition.  Even when the Grizzlies didn’t get out in the open court for an uncontested shot, the fact that they were able to operate against an unset and scrambling Lakers’ defense meant that shots came easier than they would have if the Lakers had been able to properly balance the floor and retreat back on defense on their own terms.  This all meant that Mike Conley (who, by the way, had an excellent game) was able to operate in space where he excels and attack off the dribble into a defense where the second layer of help was consistently late or, worse yet, not there at all.  This then fueled his confidence to the point that his jumper (which is improved from season’s past) was consistently taken in rhythm when the Lakers backed off him in both the open court and when going under screens on the P&R.

Overall, where the Lakers deserve the most criticism tonight (and, really, in several of their recent games) is that they’re just not paying attention to the finer details of the game until their backs are completely against the wall.  And against the Grizzlies (as it was against the Pacers) their final push to try and pull out the win wasn’t enough and came at too late a juncture.  And while it’d be easy to lament on and on about the Lakers not playing hard or them being complacent, I’m not quite there yet.  The losses are frustrating and there are things to improve on but 5 losses by a total of 22 points and every single one of them coming against quality teams (yes, quality teams) that have played well has me cutting this team some slack right now.  Again, they’re off their game but these recent performances haven’t erased from my memory the games from the first couple of weeks where the ball movement was superb, the offense was flowing at an all time level, and the defense – while leaving something to be desired – stepped up on many key possessions to bring home victories.  I mean, this team just doesn’t have it’s “A” game and while some of that needs to be credited to the opponent, a lot of it also has to do with things that the Lakers can ultimately control through their own actions.

So, tomorrow is a new night and the Lakers will look to right the ship against the Rockets.  I’d be lying if I said that I see tomorrow being any easier than the last few games but I’m also confident that the Lakers won’t let this loss linger and will be ready to play tomorrow’s game.  Until then, vent away but understand that this Lakers team has had some success in dealing with adversity and as Ron Artest said after tonight’s loss, “Now we’re in the season. Now we have to fight.”

[picappgallerysingle id=”10129566″]
Records: Lakers 13-4 (2nd in West), Grizzlies 7-10 (11th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 115.5 (1st in NBA), Grizzlies 104.6 (23rd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.8 (11th in NBA), Grizzlies 106.1 (12th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, Xavier Henry, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Grizzlies: Acie Law (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in:  Right now, you’d be hard pressed to find many people that think the Lakers are playing well.  Two straight losses will influence any person’s thoughts on the matter, but really it’s a bit more than that.  The Lakers just aren’t clicking on either side of the ball and have regressed in certain areas where this team looks like past versions of itself.  Recently the outside shooting has gone cold (hello last season) and the defense continues to look mostly average with only occasional moments of high level play (hello 2008).

Don’t get me wrong, 13-4 is fantastic considering that Bynum has been missing and the Lakers bigs have been put in a position to play heavy minutes with Ratliff also out and a rookie PF the only player with legitimate size on Phil Jackson’s bench.  But there can be a greater commitment to doing the little things better for longer stretches and putting more effort into defending and rebounding than what the team has shown in recent games.  Putting in that effort will lead to wins when shots don’t fall or when the offense is flustered by strong defenses (like vs. the Pacers).  Kobe and Phil said as much after Sunday’s game, so hopefully the Lakers will start to do those things tonight.

The Grizzlies Coming in:  The Grizzlies are a bit of a middling team right now.  Coming off of last season’s improved play, they’ve stagnated some and are having a hard time taking that next step forward from feel good story to playoff team.  They’ve won 3 of their last 4 games (including a win over the Heat) but just had a disappointing road loss to the Cavs in their last contest.  This is the latest example of a team that hasn’t quite found a formula to win each night and may be pressing some as they try to rediscover some of last year’s magic that can be then taken to the next level.

One difference you’ll see at the opening tip is that Coach Lionel Hollins has moved OJ Mayo to the bench in favor of starting rookie swingman Xavier Henry.  This move has given the Grizz a punch off their bench but has taken a play maker out of the starting lineup and it will be interesting to see if this is a long term move or something done to simply shake up a team that’s looking for a spark. 

Grizzlies Blogs: Chip Crain and Co. are doing very good work over at 3 Shades of Blue.  You can read their game preview here.

Keys to game:  The last time these two teams played the Grizz were without Zach Randolph so tonight’s contest will provide a different look with the Grizz finally back to full health.

With Randolph a sure go, the Lakers will need to concentrate on defending the interior against the dual threats of Zach and the younger Gasol.  Both Zach and Marc have good inside/outside games and will try to bully Odom and Pau on the block with post ups on some possessions and pull them away to the high post and short corner on others.  Both Pau and Lamar will need to be active in denying their bigs the post position they desire while also respecting their jumpers by closing on them hard and making them put the ball on the ground.  When the Grizz big men do drive the second layer of defense must be there to step up and help because both players are crafty around the basket and can score if given angles to get their shots off.

Where the Lakers must also do well against Zach and Marc is on the boards.  Both Memphis big men have a nose for the ball on the offensive glass and thrive off grabbing rebounds that can be put back up for easy baskets.  So, Pau and Lamar need to bring good activity to the glass, find their men, and then attack the ball.  If they stand and watch they will be beat to the ball and it will mean second chance points for Memphis.  I’d actually like to see the Lakers guards help more on the glass rather than leak out looking for outlet passes after the shot goes up.  I’ve mentioned this in the past, but the Lakers may be the worst team in the league at closing down the FT line and grabbing those rebounds that kick out to that 15 foot mark.  Many of times the Lakers guards are either too sucked in to the paint or drifting away from the rim into open space.  Tonight, they’ll need to stay home and help on the boards and secure those long bounces or Memphis will make the Lakers pay on their second and third attempts at scoring.

The other player that really needs to watched tonight is Rudy Gay.  In the first game between these two teams, Rudy had a fantastic scoring night when he poured in 30 points through a diverse offensive attack.  Rarely did he settle for the long jumper, but instead attacked off the dribble and posted up for turn around jumpers that were taken in rhythm.  When Rudy did fire from deep, he made his shots – finishing 3 for 3 from downtown.  Tonight you’d expect that Rudy wouldn’t be as hot, but the Lakers will need to defend him better by making him work harder to catch the ball and then forcing him to his left hand and then better contesting his jumper when he steps back.  I’d also like to see the Lakers trap him more in order to prove that he can be a play maker when the defensive pressure increases.

Offensively, the Lakers biggest advantage lies with Kobe on the rookie Henry.  He should be able to have his way with Henry both in the post and by attacking off the dribble after operating from the triple threat.  If and/or when the double teams start, Kobe can then start to look more for his mates as slashers against big men that don’t move that well defensively.  On a side note, the Grizz have Tony Allen on their roster but didn’t use him much to guard Kobe in the first meeting, instead using their best defensive wing on Artest and Barnes.  If Henry get lit up early by Kobe (which is a distinct possibility) expect to see more of Allen on Kobe than we did in the first game.

The other offensive key is limiting turnovers.  Memphis leads the league in opposition turnover rate, forcing turnovers on over 16% of their defensive possessions.  The Lakers have been better at taking care of the ball lately, but have been known to get turnover happy at times this year.  If they do give up the ball to this team, Conley and Gay can get easy baskets in transition and it also puts the Lakers’ defense in scramble mode as they try to change ends and find their man while still defending the advancing ball handler.  So, the Lakers will need to be patient on offense and just work the ball around by running the offense.  No need for risky or forced passes.  Instead move the ball onto the open man and then cut/screen hard in order to free up another teammate.  This will lead to open shots, even against a defense that’s in the top half of efficiency on that side of the ball.

Where you can watch:  5pm start time out west on KCAL.  Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

From NBA.com’s Hangtime Blog: David Aldridge: For that to be true, one of the following would have to go: Russell, Jordan, Magic, Wilt, Kareem. I’ll let the Chuckster choose. Steve Aschburner: I’ll bet that a thorough search of the TNT archives would turn up tape of Barkley naming 13 different guys among his “Top 5? ever. I can’t put Bryant that high on any all-time list, not when the top spots are already clogged with the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Jerry West and Julius Erving. Kobe could shove aside half of those guys and still not crack the Top 5. Counting rings is way too restrictive and an NBA peculiarity – no one obsesses over championships won when ranking the best ever in football or baseball, not to the degree employed by many hoops fans. So Bryant’s five are great, but that doesn’t give him “cuts” on Robertson or Baylor, for instance. I’d have him in my second five – and I’ll let you figure out who gets bumped down.

From Janis Carr, OC Register: After so many delays and return dates that have been pushed back, Andrew Bynum finally gave his teammates, Phil Jackson and fans a bit of good news. He could be back on the court sooner than he expected. Bynum said Monday that he could be back in uniform in 2 1/2-3 weeks instead of three weeks that he mentioned Saturday. After competing in a four-on-four half-court scrimmage, Bynum said he hopes to be ready to play recover during the Lakers’ six-game trip in mid-December.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: As Brian wrote earlier, Phil Jackson clarified Sunday’s frustrated tone about the delayed recovery of Andrew Bynum. Watching PJ speak before the Indiana game, his vibe certainly felt like someone trying not-so-subtly to kick a player into fifth gear. But today, whether because he was just in a different mood or was aware of the reaction to his statements, Phil went out of his way to make clear he has no beef with Bynum. The center was described as a very “willing worker” in his rehab and Jackson dropped no hints about Bynum perhaps being more able than willing to step on the floor. Instead, it’s the situation annoying Jackson. He’s watching helplessly as the wear and tear builds for Lamar Odom and especially Pau Gasol, and he’s helpless to do anything about it. Theo Ratliff isn’t close to a return from knee surgery. Derrick Caracter isn’t ready to handle Theo’s 8.4 minutes. And Bynum’s ETA remains stubbornly in flux. That’s a tough situation for a coach to sit by and watch.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Relaxed at the beginning of training camp, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson sat before reporters and remarked why he wasn’t upset that Andrew Bynum’s wouldn’t be fully healthy to start the season as he rehabilitates from a surgically repaired knee. “The end result is what it’s going to be like in May and June,” Jackson said. “That’s the important part.” In a stressful state of mind toward the end of the first month of the regular season, Jackson stood before reporters and lamented Bynum’s prolonged timetable, the latest being that he would return to the court in three weeks, around Christmas.

From David Lassen, The Press Enterprise: Just how dramatic is the growth of Shannon Brown’s outside shooting game? Consider this: In 92 games over his first three NBA seasons, the 25-year-old Brown had 30 three-pointers. This season, in the Lakers’ first 16 games, he already has 29. In between, of course, came Brown’s first full season with the Lakers, when he played all 82 games, shot 33 percent from the arc in making 62 three-pointers and generally proved himself valuable off the bench. But even from last year to this, the jump has been huge, with Brown shooting 52 percent (51 percent on threes) and providing a huge offensive boost for the second unit.

From Gil Meriken, Silver Screen and Roll: I hate the individual stats that are used for basketball these days. They don’t describe the game. See, the point of an individual player is not to try to rack up as many of the “good” stats and as few of the “bad” stats, even if that is what the popular models will try to to tell you. Nor will those stats alone tell you how good a player is, say , at rebounding, or passing. More rebounds than another player does NOT necessarily mean “better rebounder” any more than more assists means “better passer”. The outcomes of those stats all depends on context, role on the team, teammates, and opposition.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Kobe Bryant stood at the top of the key early in the game in some bizarre trance as he waited and waited for an offensive rebound to come all the way out to him. It never got there. The Indiana Pacers got on that ball first for a transition score that left an embarrassed Bryant standing in that same spot in disbelief at what he had just done. The Pacers had the greater urgency Sunday night and won, 95-92, at Staples Center, holding off a Bryant-fueled rally to hand the Lakers’ their second consecutive loss.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: Plenty has happened in the 11-year history of Staples Center, be it a bevy of championship Lakers teams, an armful of losing Clippers teams and, for the music enthusiasts, a host of memorable concerts, from Bruce Springsteen to U2. Then there was the latest piece of history, or infamy from the point of view of a Lakers fan. The Pacers had never beaten the Lakers at Staples Center until Sunday, when they won, 95-92, to break an 0-14 skid that included three playoff losses in 2000.

From Elliot Teaford, LA Daily News: Lackluster effort by defending champs allows Indiana to get first win at Staples vs. L.A. Every season has its firsts. First game, first victory, first loss, first compelling victory, first road win, first road loss and first bad defeat. The Lakers pretty much exhausted the list with their lackluster 95-92 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night. It was their first genuine clunker, and it came against a team that was 0-11 in its history at Staples Center. “I thought we played a lethargic game,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

People may not know this about my basketball fandom, but I love a good rookie.  I watch them on draft night, choose them for my fantasy teams, and read David Thorpe’s rookie report and weekly rankings to see how this year’s crop is performing.  I figure that tomorrow’s best players are today’s rookies and watching them learn, grow, and mature as players is one of the things I enjoy most about basketball.

And while I’m high on the two Lakers’ rooks, Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks, this isn’t really about them right now.  They’re bit players on this current team and even though I think they’ve got very good chances of developing into contributors that can make an impact, they’re both probably a year or two away from cracking the rotation on a contending team like the Lakers.

Instead, this is about John Wall and your chance to see him in action next Tuesday, December 7th when the Wizards make their one and only visit to Staples to play the Lakers.  Thanks to the good folks at StubHub*, Forum Blue & Gold is giving away two tickets to the game so you can see Wall (and Arenas and the rest of the Wiz) in action and marvel at some of the things that he can do on the court (and I don’t mean doing the Dougie).  (For those wondering, the tickets are in section 107, row M at the Staples Center.  Pretty good ducats, I’d say.)

Winning the tickets is easy.  All you have to do is tell us about your favorite moment from a rookie in NBA history.  Just go into the comments of this post and relay what rookie moment you’ve found most memorable and why.  The staff here at FB&G will read them, group the best of them, and then randomly select the winner.  That person will win the tickets**.  If you’d like to know mine, it has to do with a young man from Michigan State who played a pretty good game in the playoffs against Philly, but that’s just me.  Surely you have your own moment that you’ve found to be classic or character building or truly memorable that you’d like to share.  So, comment away and we’ll announce the winner in the next couple of days.  Good luck to all!

*A truly special thanks to StubHub for providing these tickets.  If you’re ever looking for tickets for a Lakers game, you can click on the link in right hand side bar.  Or if you’re looking for tickets to any other event, just visit their site and they’ve got you covered.

**While we encourage anyone to enter to win the tickets, local readers are preferred as only the tickets will be provided. Once a winner is chosen I will reach out to you and make arrangements for you to receive the tickets.  When leaving your comment, please fill out the email address section on the commenting box (will not be published) so we have an easy way to contact you.

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The motto we’ve preached at this site for some time has been that the Lakers will go as far as their defense takes them.  Tonight, while the Lakers held the Pacers to a respectable 102.5 offensive rating they couldn’t get stops when they needed them and ended up falling to Indiana 95-92 to lose their second consecutive game.

The biggest miscue came on the Pacers’ final possession of the game and the Lakers trailing only by a single point.  After a bit of a broken play, the Pacers’ went to a high P&R (a play that had worked with good success all evening) and ended up getting a wide open dunk when Gasol showed well on the screen but did so several feet above the three point line which then allowed Roy Hibbert the space he needed to stroll down the lane unimpeded.  Gasol’s mates did little to help him as they simply watched Hibbert dive down the paint while stubbornly sticking to their own men that spaced the floor around the three point line (I’m looking at you, Lamar and Kobe).  That basket pushed the lead to three and triggered a possession where the Lakers got a decent first look from Kobe (off a good high P&R) and, after securing the offensive rebound, dribbling out and making strange passes until Kobe ultimately ended up taking another forced three pointer that fell harmlessly short to end the game.

But really, it’s kind of amazing that the Lakers were within a single basket in the closing seconds as they were pretty much outplayed for the majority of this contest.  Led by Roy Hibbert’s fantastic game (24 points on 13 shots, 12 rebounds, 6 assists), the Pacers controlled the paint and, by extension, the tempo of the contest.  While their offense was far from humming (they only shot 43% as a team), they mostly got good looks at the basket by beating the Lakers off the dribble and taking advantage of flat footed defenders by beating them off cuts, screens, and to loose balls.

But again, it all started with Hibbert.  The Pacers run an offense that takes a lot of action from UCLA’s classic high post sets while also incorporating principles of the Flex and the Princeton offense.  They run a lot of motion, screens, and back cuts and Hibbert does a lot of initiating from the high post where he picks out cutters or takes his own (much improved) jumper from about 18 feet.  And when he wasn’t operating from the high post, he was doing damage from the low block by hitting his jump hook from both the right block and the from the middle with relative ease.  When Hibbert didn’t have the ball in his hands he was setting good screens to free up his mates for dribble penetration or curls into open space where they could get up good shots.  It’s easy to see why he’s the early leading candidate for most improved player as he’s taken on a heavy burden for his team and really stepped up in a variety of areas to improve them on both sides of the floor.

As for the Lakers, they looked flat and out of synch for a lot of this contest.  I give a lot of credit to the Pacers for their hustle and effort, but the team in the home whites were a step slow for most of the evening and seemed to lose out on every 50/50 ball and long rebound.  And while I’ve mentioned their somewhat poor execution on defense, their offense wasn’t any better.  As a team the Lakers shot 38.6% from the floor and a ghastly 49.7% True Shooting.

Pau Gasol’s 5-15 could easily be seen as the worst of the bunch and due to his importance to the team, I’d agree that his struggles had a big part in the Lakers overall performance on offense.  Pau started out hitting his first three shots, but that success was not sustainable.  He ultimately suffered through a night where he missed a few short hooks but was ultimately really bothered by the height and length of Hibbert.  Also contributing to his lackluster effort on both sides of the ball was his heavy workload as he again played 45 minutes, getting his only rest of the game in the final few minutes of the first quarter.

The only bright spot on offense (besides a solid 14 points on 10 shots from Odom) was Kobe’s 41 point night, but even that wasn’t as outstanding as it would seem at first glance.  He needed 33 shots to get to that total and took a few ill advised shots throughout the game.  That said, without his extraordinary effort throughout the 2nd half, the Pacers probably win this game by double digits going away so I really can’t complain too much with any one shot that Kobe took or with his approach overall.  In the third quarter he carried the team on his back to cut a 15 point deficit to 8 when he went on a classic Kobe run of made jumpers that climaxed with a fantastic drive where, going to his left, he spun middle and made a backhanded righty lay up as he fell to the ground getting fouled.  And then at the end of the contest, he closed the game the best he could only to come up short when he missed his last two attempts that could have tied the game.

Looking at this game as a whole I’m not sure if there’s one thing that stood out besides that missing Andrew Bynum is really starting to wear on this team.  As mentioned, Gasol played 45 minutes again and Odom played 40 of his own.  The Lakers defensive rebounding is still sub-par and their interior defense on both penetration and on post ups is lacking right now.  Tonight was one of the first nights that I’ve really thought that Pau was pacing himself in certain moments, but without a legit back up Center and knowing that he’s due for heavy minutes I really can’t blame him.  I know that’s there’s no immediate solution to this issue and there’s a hope that Bynum will be back soon, but until that happens the Lakers are vulnerable to nights like this.  The Pacers played hard and handed the Lakers their 4th loss in 17 games.  Things could be certainly be much worse and there’s no need to extract too much from this game.  But it sure will be nice when the Lakers big man rotation is back to normal.