Archives For November 2010

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Records: Lakers 11-2 (3rd in West), Warriors 7-5 (7th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 116.9 (1st in NBA), Warriors 106.5 (17th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.5 (12th in NBA), Warriors 108.4 (20th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Warriors: Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Dorell Wright, Vladimir Radmanovic, Andris Biedrins
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Warriors: David Lee (out), Brandan Wright (doubtful), Lou Admundson (out), Ekpe Udoh (out)

The Lakers Coming in:  Nothing like a three game roadie against teams with bad records to cure what ails a team.  The Lakers left for the mid-west on a two game losing streak and return winners of three in a row.  On the trip they continued to show that their offense is in fact the league’s best while also playing some pretty good defense in two of the three games to raise their efficiency on that side of the ball to a more respectable 12th in the league.  Still not where we’d like, but inching in the right direction.

And since there’s really nothing new to report on this team from the perspective of Bynum’s return or other newsworthy events, go read Dan Devine’s take on Charles Barkley’s comments about Kobe being a top five player all time.  And then watch the video below of Blake Griffin dunking on the Knicks. Repeatedly.  These should hold you over until tip off tonight.

The Warriors Coming in:  If I were to tell you that tonight the Lakers played the team in 2nd place in the Pacific Division with a 7-5 record and currently sits in the 7th spot in the West it’s doubtful the first team you’d think of is the Warriors.  The Suns maybe.  But the Warriors?  That is the case, though.  This team is definitely on the upswing.  They’re playing with a renewed sense of pride and I would think a lot of that has to do with the ownership change that was just finalized by the league.  In their past few games they’ve struggled (losing 3 of 4) but a lot of that has had to do with the injury to David Lee who has had to sit out the last 4 games with an infected elbow.  If you’re not familiar with the story, Lee was facing his old team (the Knicks) and after securing a defensive rebound he swung his elbows to clear some space and connected with Wilson Chandler’s mouth.  Lee knocked out one of Chandler’s teeth, but in the process sustained a puncture wound to his arm that became infected and required Lee to be hospitalized.  Lee was just released this week and will not likely return for at least another week.  So while Lee sits, the Warriors sputter on the glass and lose their only inside scoring punch, and thus the losses have started to pile up.

But even in defeat, not all is bad for the Dubs.  The one player that’s really playing excellent basketball is Monta Ellis.  Just last season he was thought of as disposable as his inefficient gunning seemed to have a stranglehold on the team.  This year, though, he’s just a different guy.  He’s become a leader for the team.  His scoring is not only up but he’s doing it efficiently.  I’ll let Ethan Sherwood Strauss at Warriors World take it from here:

Some players are described as scoring easily. I’ve often heard it like this: “You think he’s not doing much, then you look up and he’s got 30 points.” Monta Ellis is the opposite: He scores difficultly, to thrilling amplification. Monta’s twisting layups and off-balance jumpers tend to leave you feeling like he scored 10 more points than he did. The stat sheet reads, “40,” my memory whispers, “50.”

And Monta’s dunk. That’s what it’s like to be transported, to completely fly away from whatever problems, issues, or entanglements haunt your life. The straining stuff just doesn’t exist when Ellis crushes Turiaf like a Venus Flytrap. All that matters is the unbridled joy of seeing it live.

Warriors Blogs: Check out Warriors World for any and all information on the Dubs.  Also visit Golden State of Mind for more on the Warriors.

Keys to game:  The Last time these two teams met it was also a Sunday night contest in Los Angeles.  On that (Halloween) night the Lakers struck early and often and ultimately cruised to a 24 point victory.  The Lakers used their size to dominate the interior by both scoring in the paint at will and by gobbling up offensive rebounds.  Tonight, they’ll be looking to do the same thing and it may be even easier considering the Warriors’ injury issues.  I’ve already mentioned that David Lee will be out for the Warriors and Brandan Wright will also likely be out with back issues.  That greatly depletes an already thin Warriors’ front court and should allow the Lakers to feast in the paint once again.

So, hopefully we’ll see the Lakers go into their bigs early and often with post ups to Pau and Odom to get the offense going.  When those early post ups aren’t there, the Lakers can then try Kobe in the post against either Ellis or Curry as neither undersized guard has the size to battle #24 on the block.  However, where Kobe needs to be careful – especially against Ellis – is by trying to back him down from too far out on the court.  In recent match ups between these two teams, Ellis has done a good job of poking the ball away from Kobe when he’s dribbling into his post position.  And considering Kobe’s turnover totals this season (20 in his last 5 games), he’ll need to be extra careful against Monta’s quick hands.

Defensively, controlling the Warriors in transition and off the dribble will be the Lakers biggest challenges.  Both Ellis and Curry are excellent in space and love to get the ball up the court quickly to attack defenses before they get set.  The Lakers can battle against this through their own offensive approach (going into the post, avoiding long jumpers early in the clock) and by attacking the offensive glass, but ultimately the Lakers will still have to be aware of the Warrior’s want to push the ball and get back in transition to avoid early offense from the Dubs.  Especially important will be the Lakers’ big men who will have to change ends quickly in order to discourage drives by obstructing driving lanes in early offense and showing early help when the Lakers guards get beat off the dribble (which will happen).

The Lakers’ pick and roll defense will also be severely tested tonight.  Both Ellis and Curry are fantastic operating in the P&R  as they’re both able to shoot from distance when defenders go under the screen and can explode off the dribble to the rim when defenders chase over the top.  They’re both also adept at splitting the double team when the big man hedges so there’s really no safe way to defend this action without Ellis and/or Curry having a potential answer for the initial defensive strategy.  The Lakers will have to show good discipline on this play by hedging/recovering, rotating to shooters if the pass is made to the wing, while also having a third line of help waiting at the rim should the Warriors’ guards split the pick and get into the paint.  There’s really no other team in the league that has multiple guards that can do as much in the P&R as the Warriors so the Lakers will need to be ready.

In the end, this game should go much like the Halloween game did.  The Lakers are clearly the superior team and are once again rolling on offense with an improving defense over the past few games.  However, this is the first game back from a road trip (which is always a game that’s tricky) and the Lakers could look at the Dub’s injury ledger and think this game will be a walk.  So, besides battling the Warriors’ guards, their overall shooting prowess, and their speed in the open court, they’ll also need to battle complacency.  I doubt it will be too much of a problem after what the team showed in Detroit and Minnesota, but with this Lakers’ group you won’t really know until the ball tips.

Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on Fox Sports West.  Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.

During the off-season, there were certain needs the Lakers were looking to fill.  Back up point guard was the obvious, but nearly as important was finding a suitable reserve at small forward.  The first name that the Lakers were hot after was Raja Bell but he spurned the Lakers for a bigger contract with the Utah Jazz.  At that point the Lakers moved on to Matt Barnes who, to many people’s surprise, was still available late in the free agency period.  He’d flirted with several teams but had not yet found a home and the Lakers were suddenly in the hunt for a guy that seemed to be a very good fit.

We’ve already discussed how nice it is to have Matt in the mix this year, but last night’s performance against the Timberwolves was the latest example of what Barnes can bring to the Lakers’ bench.  ESPN Stats and Information tells us that:

Matt Barnes made all seven field goals and all five of his free throws, finishing with a team-high 24 points in the Lakers win against the Timberwolves. Barnes also had seven rebounds and six assists. In the last 25 seasons, Barnes is the third player to go 20-5-5 and shoot 100 percent from both the field and free throw line in a game. The other two players are Gary Payton against the Cavaliers in 1994-95, and Charles Barkley against the Spurs in 1988-89.

Pretty good company, there.  Below is a quick highlight clip of Barnes from last night.  Here’s to more nights like last night’s to come this season (even if we can’t realistically expect more perfect nights).  Enjoy.

(video via TheRealCaCHooKaMan)

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Tonight, instead of writing the traditional game recap, I’m going to take a look at deconstructing tonight’s simple box score. I’m not taking a look at advanced statistics, just analyzing the Lakers 11th win with a look at the game’s purest statistics: points, rebounds, assists, turnovers and field goals. The game against the Timberwolves wasn’t complicated to figure out, the analysis should follow suit.

Matt Barnes: 7-7, 5-5 3FG, seven rebounds, six assists, zero turnovers

There really isn’t anything negative to say about what Matt Barnes brought off of the bench against the ‘Wolves. He shot the ball well, knocked down the three-ball, hit the boards and made a few fantastic passes. Barnes’ 24 points came within the flow of the offense, nothing was rushed or forced, he just let the opportunities come to him. There was one play in particular where Barnes was open for another three on the right wing, but found a wide-open Lamar Odom under the basket and fed him the ball for the higher percentage shot. I’ve said this before, but Barnes ability to make plays is the most underrated part of his game. He has excellent vision, and Phil Jackson will be able to really take advantage of his skill set when he gets another month or two of the offense under his belt.

Lamar Odom: 11 points, eight rebounds, seven assists

This is just a classic LO stat line. He does a little bit of everything which all adds up to a whole bunch. It’s games like this that prove the worth of having such a multi-faceted player. Tonight, LO spent a lot of time bringing the ball up and initiating the offence, which really opens up a wealth of options for the Lakers offense. We weren’t able to see what it opens up for Kobe and Pau too much, but we saw what it means for the other two on the floor. Derek Fisher, like Barnes, finished the night without missing from the field, including two for two from behind the arch, Shannon Brown came in and knocked down an open three. Even Derrick Caracter was able to come in and get some good looks at the basket on possession that began with LO starting the offense.

Kevin Love: 0 points 0-7 FGs, 7 rebounds

The last time the Lakers saw Kevin Love he scored 24 points and grabbed 23 rebounds, 11 of which were on the offensive glass. The game before the last meeting, Love recorded a 16 and 16 line. Two games after their last meeting, Love recorded the historic 31 and 31 line. Needless to say, when Kevin Love has been on the floor this season, he has played extremely well. Tonight, Kevin Love was a non-factor. A lot of the Lakers success in keeping Love off of the glass can be given to Ron Artest, who was out there putting a body on Love every time a shot went up. What Artest was able to accomplish won’t show up in the box score (five points, four rebounds), but he deserves a lot of credit for putting in the effort to keep Love off of the glass. Giving so much attention to Love did open up things for Darko Milicic, who had a fantastic game by his standards, but that is something the Lakers can live with. They went into tonight’s game with the mindset of not letting Love kill them on the boards for the second straight game, and Love had, by far, his worst night of the season.

Kobe Bryant: 23 points, 8-27 FGs, 8 rebounds

Don’t get me wrong, I completely enjoyed the shots that Kobe made. There were a few toward the end of the second quarter that were absolutely fun to watch (i.e. that beautiful reverse layup), but there just wasn’t any reason for Kobe to take 27 shots. A few of them were early in the shot clock, outside of what the offense normally dictates. The Lakers were never in any kind of threat of losing the game, so trying to “save” the team wasn’t an excuse either. I understand that he’s still working on getting his legs back, and considering that he is great at what he does and I am not, it’s hard for me to question his ways. However, at some point he has to realize that he has five teammates who are more than capable of carrying his conjectural load while he gets back to where he wants to be. This offense needs to work inside-out, and it’s up to Kobe to let that happen. It didn’t’ hurt them tonight, but at some point, an eight for 27 night is going to result in a loss. We’ve seen how capable he is in picking apart defenses with his ability to pass the ball and selectively pick his shots. Of course I’d like to see more of that, but then again, the Lakers scored 112 with the reserves in for the last few minutes of the fourth.

The big picture of last night’s win is the fact that the Lakers swept their first road trip of the season. It wasn’t the toughest road trip they’ll have all season, but the road trip began right after their second loss of the season. The three straight road wins were a good response to their first couple of losses of the season. The Lakers play again on Sunday against the Warriors before games against the Bulls and Jazz, who promise much tougher than the trio of teams they faced on their road trip.

[picappgallerysingle id=”10172130″]
Records: Lakers 10-2 (3rd in West), Timberwolves 4-9 (12th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 117.3 (1st in NBA), Timberwolves 101.6 (27th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.5 (19th in NBA), Timberwolves 110.4 (26th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Timberwolves: Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Timberwolves: Jonny Flynn (out), Martell Webster (out), Nikola Pelovic (out)

The Lakers Coming in:  Two straight wins and some strong, professional play is what’s been presented so far this road trip.  The Lakers poured it on late against the Bucks and early against Pistons and the team has seemingly bounced back from last week’s mishaps against the Suns and Nuggets. 

Minutes played by the front court continue to be a concern and before Wednesday’s game, Phil Jackson specifically referenced Gasol’s heavy load as a worry moving forward.  Games like the one against Detroit (where Pau only played 33 minutes) will help ease Pau’s burden, but getting another big to soak up some minutes is still a front burner issue.  As we’ve mentioned, don’t expect a flashy signing but rather the type of guy that will practice hard, play when needed, and be happy with an unguaranteed deal that will quickly be voided when Bynum returns. (So, sorry Dampier supporters.  That description doesn’t fit the still unsigned big man.)

On a side, but related note, Bynum’s potential return date is now listed as sometime around the middle of December.  If you hadn’t noticed, that’s a bit of a delay from the original timeline put out by the team.  Just as we mentioned yesterday, when it comes to Bynum no timeline is really accurate and I think we should all operate under the “I’ll believe it when I see it” mantra.  Again, when he’s back, he’s back.  Until then the Lakers will have to find ways to make it work.  If that means signing another big or playing Caracter through the typical ups and downs of a rookie big man, so be it.  This team still takes the long term view on most things and this should be no different.

The Timberwolves Coming in:  It was only 10 days ago that these Wolves faced the Lakers and in the time since that match up this team is playing well.  They’re 3-2 in that stretch and even in their losses they’ve played much better ball.  They’ve scored over a 100 points in all 5 contests and they’re really getting inspired performances from some of their guys – especially Kevin Love and Michael Beasley. 

In the last 4 games, Love has been outright beastly as he’s averaged a shade over 24 points and nearly 18 rebounds each night.  And in that run he had an amazing 31 point, 31 rebound effort against the Knicks that, needless to say, was a game for the ages as no player had put up a 30/30 game since Moses Malone.  Pretty good company there.  Then there’s Beasley who is finding his groove as a go to scorer and starting to fulfill his potential as the guy taken #2 in his draft class as a dynamic scorer and rebounder.  In Beasley’s last 5 games he’s not been below 25 points once and has put up 30 or more three times, including a high of 42.  His rebounding is still only average, but that’s to be somewhat expected when he’s playing SF and is sharing the front court with a rebounding machine in Kevin Love.

Overall this team is one that, while not quite on the rise, is getting back to a competitive level that’s been absent for the past several years.  If they continue to improve they’ll surely win more games but maybe even more important can potentially be that “tough out” team that no one really likes to face.  They’re not there yet, but they’re inching in that direction.  And once they do get there, confidence will come and that’s when the wins will follow.  They’re definitely building something and for that I give them credit.  Yes, even Kaaaaahhhhhhhn.

Timberwolves Blogs:  A Wolf Among Wolves is putting up great work everyday.  Between Benjamin Polk, Zach Harper, and Myles Brown it’s doubtful there’s better content on the ‘Wolves anywhere.

Keys to game:  So far I’ve mentioned that the Wolves are playing much better and that the Lakers are playing strong, professional basketball.  Despite all that, let’s just say I have my concerns about this game.  This is the third game in four nights and the last game of a road trip.  And while the ‘Wolves are playing better, they’re still a team that the Lakers could easily look past.  So, be forewarned that a slug-fest may be on the docket tonight.

If the Lakers are to avoid that scenario, playing hard would be the first step but playing smart is a close second.  Taking care of the ball and attacking with a focused, disciplined offensive approach will go a long way towards the Lakers starters icing their knees in the fourth quarter rather than looking to put the game on ice with FT’s in the closing minutes.

First and foremost that means a patient and deliberate attack from Kobe.  Ten days ago Kobe decided he would try to beat the Wolves mostly on his own early and it led to a night where he more than doubled any of his teammate’s shot attempts.  Tonight there should be better ball and shot distribution in order to capitalize on all the Lakers’ match up advantages and not just the one that Kobe has.  Get the ball inside to Pau against Darko and to Odom at the top of the circle and mid post against Kevin Love so both bigs can go to work.  If Kobe deems having the ball in his hands is necessary, he can run some P&R or back down his man from the mid-post but I’d like to see him be a willing passer in those situations rather than looking for his shot first. 

Defensively, there are two keys tonight: get back in transition and control the defensive glass.  Minnesota really tried to push the pace in the last match up and got up 92 shots (to the Lakers 89) even though they had 25 turnovers on the evening.  Those quick shots led to long rebounds that the Wolves turned into second and third possessions when they hauled in 26(!) offensive rebounds.  The third defensive key for the Lakers is simply caring more by paying closer attention to detail.  That means closing out on shooters and not giving up such easy penetration to Minnesota’s guards and wings.  In the last game the Lakers allowed too many driving lanes which then forced big men to help thus weakening their defensive rebounding. 

I can’t say this enough, but tonight’s game is one where the Wolves will be looking to get the win they didn’t 10 days ago and if the Lakers are lax in effort they just may get it.  However, if the Lakers that played the Pistons show up, this game could be over by the time the 3rd quarter begins.  The choice is theirs.  Let’s hope they make the right one. 

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

The Expectations Game

Darius Soriano —  November 18, 2010

[picappgallerysingle id=”2320607″]
Expectations can be tricky.

Live up to or exceed them and the bar gets raised to a level where anything less than achieving or surpassing those same heights can taint future accomplishments (see: Thunder, Oklahoma City).  Or, don’t achieve what’s expected of you in the first place and it’s a disappointment that is tough to live down, regardless of what transpires in the future.  Yet still, if expectations are low and the achievements reached are far greater than what anyone originally thought possible, a hero’s celebration is sure to follow (Michael Beasley is inching in that direction right now).  Such is life – and sports – and walking a path where you don’t find yourself on one side of this line is often difficult or even impossible.

We see examples of the expectations game all the time in the NBA.  In 2008 the Lakers were an afterthought to start the year as trade rumors surrounded Kobe Bryant and engulfed the Lakers’ organization.  By the time the all-star break came the Lakers were one of the better teams in the league, had traded for Pau Gasol and went on to crash through their supposed ceiling by reaching the Finals.  That team eclipsed what many originally thought possible and were thus celebrated. (Initially, at least. Then expectations shifted, but that’s another story for another day.)  Today, we see what being on the wrong side of fulfilling expectations is like with the Miami Heat and Chris Bosh’s performance under a constant microscope with tags of underachievement being placed on a team (and that specific player) based off what was thought they would be and could achieve this season.

There’s really no way around playing the expectations game.  A player or a team can ignore them the best they can, but in the end others’ beliefs of what you can or should achieve, be, or do in any given situation often take the place of whatever the individual or team has in it’s own plans.

I bring all this up because of the case of two big men.  One of them we’re all quite familiar with – Andrew Bynum.  The other is also a familiar name  – Greg Oden.

Earlier this week, Bynum was asked what his return date would be as he continues to work his way back from off-season surgery of his own.  Rather than go into any details, Bynum said, “I don’t want to change expectations”.  You see, Bynum is quite familiar with how this works.  This is the 4th straight season that he’s missed substantial playing time due to an injury.  Each season a timeline was set for his return and each year that date came and went with Bynum still rehabbing his injury.  Fans (myself included) proceeded to call Andrew a “notoriously slow healer” and now our expectations have been reset and adjusted to the fact that there aren’t any real timelines when it comes to Bynum, only waiting.  We know that one day he will be back and when he is we can go back to placing other expectations on him – to be an all-star, a better passer, or more/less of some other quality that we’d like to see in him or his game.

Fans of the Portland Trailblazers could only hope for the same ability to say that their injured big man will be back.   Because with the latest announcement and the reprecussions of it, it’s not a lock that Oden will ever be a viable player in the NBA again, much less do it with the Blazers (check out this post for a great roundup of Oden articles).  Which, needless to say, is a shame.  Because we’ve all had our own expecations for the Blazers’ big man.  Some called him the best big man prospect since Duncan.  Others said he had the potential to be a defensive game changer in the Alonzo Mourning mold, only with a more refined offensive game.  His size, strength, and natural talent as a player was unquestioned and now with another knee surgery planned and another season missed, questions are all that there are.

However this all turns out, though, I hope nothing but the best  for Greg Oden.  Many are counting him out right now and there’s good reason for that.  While the success rate of players who go though micro-fracture surgery is much better than the days of Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway, it’s still a daunting surgery with a long and rigorous rehab.  That said, Oden seems like a player that loves the game and after working as hard as he has to come back from his other injuries maybe he has one more push to come back in him.  I sure hope so.

Just as a I hope for a healthy return of Andrew Bynum and for him to show us all again why all the fuss about his timelines exists in the first place.  While Bynum, like Oden, has endured more than his fair share of injuries, he’s also had enough court time to show us what’s possible with his game; for the expectations to be based off actual, sustained production and not just the potential of it.  So, I can’t wait to see him back on the court.  If only because the expectations for continued improvement are still there – even if it’s not always fair that it’s the case.

Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: It was a gray Wednesday in the middle of the country in the middle of November on the second night of a back-to-back set against a nondescript opponent. And the Lakers were great anyway. What can you really prove in an early season mismatch against a fragmented, demoralized Detroit Pistons team? Plenty, plenty. These are occasions when it’s so easy to go through the motions and play down to the level of the competition. Past Lakers teams have done that often, and allow me to flash back to my mid-November column a year ago about how the Lakers started last season:

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Seven years ago, the Lakers were Team Turmoil with all sorts of distractions on a 2003-04 team that still managed to reach the NBA Finals before falling off the cliff against the more united Detroit Pistons. Back in the venue where he suffered his first and worst loss in the championship round, Lakers coach Phil Jackson saw this season’s installment of the Lakers play with impressive pride, community and execution in a 103-90 dismantling of a Detroit team that is having its own morale issues now. “Everything seemed to go right for us,” Jackson said of the team’s fast start. Although Jackson said he has put the 2004 NBA Finals behind him, Kobe Bryant said in his KCAL/9 postgame interview that he is motivated by it every time he returns to The Palace of Auburn Hills.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Take the Lakers’ 103-90 victory Wednesday over Detroit for what it’s worth. A win against a sub-. 500 opponent can be deceiving when measuring any the areas of significance against that backdrop. So even if the Lakers clicked offensively and sharpened up defensively, I hesitate to draw big-picture implications out of it. Nonetheless, this can do wonders from a psychological standpoint after coming off a recent two-game losing streak. The Lakers rebounded in a competitive win Tuesday against Milwaukee and proved they could sustain that energy, albeit against a 4-8 team, the following night. The Lakers’ three-game trip came at the right time because the team hit a little bit of a lull after experiencing early-season success, and it was nice for the team finally to hit the road for an extended period of time. A change of scenery always helps keep things interesting and the fact the Lakers came away with two wins from it thus far shows the team has changed up its focus. We’ll see how that carries over Friday at Minnesota.

Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: If you happened to miss tonight’s game, first: congratulations on finding something better to do. Some of us weren’t so lucky. Second: please don’t misread a modest 13-point margin of victory as a sign that the outcome was ever in question. In front of a sparse and depressed-looking Palace crowd, the Lakers jammed out to an 11-2 lead and built the cushion up to 14 at halftime and 26 in the third period before letting the scrubs run out the clock. The Lakers move their record to 10-2 on the season and 2-0 on the second nights of back-to-backs.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: I’m not referring to the pride experienced by a player or fan. Sure, it’s a sweet feeling, but similar to what Chris Rock said about taking care of your kids, the Lakers are supposed to dominate the Pistons. They’re very bad, spend more time bickering with their coach than trying to improve and sport the body language of a crew hankering to quit in ten minutes. There are no bragging rights in beating Detroit. But what this contest does offer, other than a theoretical automatic “W,” is the chance for a starter to get hurt by being on the floor too long or having to expend more effort than legitimately necessary. All Lake Show pride aside, the desire to quickly make this a laugher is more pragmatic than emotional. You want a win and everyone exiting the building in one piece. No more. No less.

Patrick Hayes, Piston Powered: So … how about that Jared Sullinger? At least people won’t grasp at straws based on how well the bench played after the Pistons’ second unit combined to shoot 14-for-42 in the team’s 103-90 loss to the Lakers Wednesday. The outcome isn’t a surprise. For the third time this season, the Pistons played a team that is among the league’s elite. For the third time (following losses to Boston and Portland), the Pistons were never in the game. Rip Hamilton was ejected about five minutes into the game, and maybe having an extra taller defensive player to throw at Kobe Bryant would’ve mattered, but it’s doubtful considering how well everyone on the Lakers played and how poorly everyone on the Pistons played. There isn’t much to analyze in the loss. The Pistons didn’t move the ball well. They didn’t defend. And those two things aren’t much different than a lot of games this season, but the difference was the Pistons compounded the problems by not making shots.

Lastly, Rob Mahoney “articulates the significance of the Lakers as a Second Creation story, a rebirth by which all NBA narratives are shaped,” on Voice of the Floor. Check it out here.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

If blowing out bad teams has a strong correlation to post-season success, the Lakers just took one more step in the right direction in achieving their end of season goal by man handling the Pistons 103-90 on Wednesday night.  Because, make no mistake, the Pistons are a bad basketball team and despite a final margin of 13 points this game wasn’t really that close.

The Lakers just had all the answers on a night where the Pistons showed that they could be a game opponent, but didn’t have the staying power to compete for a full contest.  They had some spark, but not enough flame to really keep up with a Lakers team that burned white hot for the entire contest – save garbage time when the game was already decided.

The Lakers trio of Kobe, Pau, and Lamar were once again the difference as they scored, passed, and rebounded with ease the entire night.  We’ll first discuss Kobe who had an intensity to his game from the opening tip.  When the game started he immediately attacked long time nemesis Rip Hamilton and drew a reach in foul when he bodied Rip up. As the whistle blew, Kobe then extended his arm into Hamilton’s chest to seemingly signal that tonight was going to be a real battle.  Over the next 3 minutes, Kobe poured in 8 of the Lakers first 11 points, including two three pointers on secondary breaks that showed how into the game he really was.  And it would pretty much continue this way the rest of the night for Kobe.  He’d attack to get a shot he wanted and walk away with a bucket or a trip to the foul line for his effort, ending up with 33 points on only 20 shots while going a perfect 8 for 8 from the FT line (with 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals for good measure).  The only difference between that initial Kobe run and how he reached his final stat line was that it wasn’t Hamilton that was guarding him for his final 25 points.  Halfway through the first quarter Rip got inexplicably tossed after getting two quick technicals for arguing a touch foul on a Kobe baseline fade away jumper.  Based off how Kobe had it going, I doubt it would have made a difference in either Kobe’s performance or the final outcome had Rip not been excused to the showers, but nevertheless it was a shame to see Hamilton ejected at such an early stage.

Say for a second though, that Hamilton does stay in the game and he expertly defended Kobe the entire night.  I’d likely still be writing this same recap because the advantage that Pau and Lamar had over their front court counterparts was gulf like.  Both Lakers’ big men went wherever they wanted on the court and got practice quality looks against players that either couldn’t be bothered to defend hard or just didn’t have the skill level to do so effectively.  Pau especially looked dominant for long stretches as he displayed his full arsenal of jumphooks (with both hands), turn around jumpers, and face up jumpers from all over court.  He expertly sealed fronting defenders and got easy lay ins when the Lakers went to their high low game off of the high post flash by the weak side big.  All in all, Pau finished with another double-double, tallying 25 points (on 17 shots) 12 rebounds (2 offensive) and one assist, steal, block, turnover, and personal foul.

And then there was Lamar who is showing little affect of the bone bruise on his foot that he was diagnosed with on Monday.  LO too had double digit points and rebounds (15 and 14 respectively) while also dishing out 4 assists on the night.  He looked good in the open court and in creating off the dribble and did a good job of initiating the sets when paired with both the starters and the 2nd unit.  A good all around game from LO.

Where the Lakers fell short was with their bench production.  While Barnes and Caracter did well on the glass throughout the night, the Lakers reserves did struggle to hit shots for most of the evening.  Blake, Barnes and Brown combined to go 3 for 13 from the field and if it wasn’t for Caracter’s 3-5 effort from the field, no Lakers’ bench player would have shot over 35% from the field.  And while every non-Machine nicknamed player did a good job of running the offense and generating decent shots for themselves and each other, the shots just didn’t fall tonight.  (On a side note, Sasha had about as bad a 6 minute stint to close the game that I can recall him playing in recent seasons.  Always the gunner, Sasha was seemingly beyond just aggressive and actually came off a bit selfish after he checked into the game.  Just a bad night for the Machine.)

In the end though, the bench’s performance wasn’t so poor that it cost the Lakers any points from their lead (at least until those final few minutes in garbage time) and for the most part their professionalism and willingness to do what was needed to keep the game well out of reach is exactly what you want from the reserves in a game like this.  Ultimately, the Lakers outclassed the Pistons and while this result could be somewhat predicted, it’s still nice for it to actually happen and for the Lakers’ starters to be able to have ice on their knees while they sit for most of the final frame.  If I was mapping out this game beforehand, the result we saw tonight would be exactly what was drawn up and for that I’m quite happy.  Now, it’s on to Minnesota for Friday night’s game with the T-Wolves.

[picappgallerysingle id=”4365023″]
Records: Lakers 9-2 (3rd in the West), Pistons 4-7 (10th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 117.6 (1st in NBA), Pistons 104.4 (22nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 108.1 (23rd in NBA), Pistons 109.2 (24th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Pistons: Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, Ben Wallace
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Pistons: Jonas Jerebko (out), Chris Wilcox (out), Terrico White (out)

Big Man Hunting: As you read in this morning’s links, the Lakers are looking at the possibility of adding a big man to fill in while Bynum advances in his rehab and Theo recovers from Tuesday knee surgery.  The names being thrown around are not inspiring (Jake Voskhul, Sean May, Steven Hunter), but considering the circumstances they shouldn’t be.  Big man depth is key, but when the Lakers are fully healthy, the 4th big on this team is a part time player at most and performs more high fives on a nightly basis than inside pivots from the mid-post.  I thought Dave McMenamin made a good point in his column over at Land O’ Lakers when he said:

One thing I know: Derrick Caracter isn’t going to be the guy. The rookie got a DNP against the Bucks while Gasol played 40-plus minutes for the third straight game. One thing I think: Finding a young, fresh body in the D-League would be their best bet.

I too think that the D-league may provide the best option, especially one that currently plays on the Bakersfield Jam and may have some previous exposure to the Lakers’ systems.  Drew Naymick fits that description and may be worth calling up for a few weeks on an unguaranteed contract that can be voided once all the Lakers bigs return to health and on court action.  Also, don’t think that because the Lakers are looking outside of the current roster that there’s some issue with Caracter.  While remaining high on Caracter’s long term potential is a given, he’s still best when paired with Gasol and he’s prone to the types of defensive lapses that many rookie big men are.  And when it comes to earning minutes from Phil, an understanding of the defensive schemes is a priority (this is why Ebanks seems to have earned more minutes so far than Caracter).  Derrick’s time will surely come, but I have the feeling that he needs more defensive polish and could use more practice reps on both sides of the ball before he’s deemed ready to soak up minutes as a backup big that works in the pivot.

The Pistons Coming in: Oh how the high and mighty have fallen.  It’s hard to believe that it was just 2004 that the Pistons defeated the Lakers in the Finals, using a well-coached, disciplined group of players.  Since that time, the Lakers have come back to play in 3 more championship series (winning two) while the team from the motor city has slowly slipped from contender, to mediocrity, to now being one of the lesser teams in all the league.  Joe Dumars, once lauded as one of the shrewdest GMs in the league, has attempted to remake his team but has fallen flat in nearly every way.  Bad trades (Billups for Iverson?), questionable free agent moves, draft picks that haven’t yet panned out, and coaching changes that just churn out the same poor results are all now contributing to a team that’s 4-7 and seemingly stuck in neutral or, even worse,  reverse.

Recently, the Pistons are getting ink for all the wrong reasons.  Injuries have caused rotations to be shuffled and poor results on the floor have caused spats between players and coaches to break out in the media.  Essentially, this team is the definition of dysfunction and I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to change if these same pieces are stuck together trying to cooperate when it’s obvious that there’s not a lot of agreement going on between the principal parties.

The thing is though, this team has some talent.  While some of their parts are aging (Hamilton, Prince), they have some good players at nearly every position (save big man).  Stuckey has been playing well, Ben Gordon is always a threat to put up big numbers off the bench, and Charlie V has been scoring at a good clip with good outside shooting.  They just don’t have the cohesiveness of a winning team.  (On a side note, there were some folks who root for the Lakers that wanted Tracy McGrady over the off-season.  Well, based off his game log, lets just say I’m glad he’s on another roster.  Granted, his numbers are a bit better of late, but I’m quite happy with Blake and Barnes thank you very much.)

Pistons Blogs: Visit Piston Powered for all the info you’ll ever need on this team.  And if that’s not enough for you, Detroit Bad Boys is also worth your time.

Keys to game: Second night of a back to back tonight and that always means the prospect of tired legs.  This is especially important when monitoring how Gasol is playing throughout the game, as he saw a team-high 44 minutes in last night’s victory over the Bucks.  Andif you read the first part of the preview, you know that there may not be any help on the roster besides the possibility of going small with Odom at Center for limited minutes.  This may mean that Phil gets creative in how he rests Pau by pulling him out at the end of quarters or before mandatory timeouts just to give Pau the maximum amount of real time rest in the minimum amount of game minutes missed.

The bigger issue with a potentially tired Pau is that the weakest part of the Pistons’ roster is their front court.  They start the undersized Ben Wallace, who is years removed from the days that he terrorized the defensive paint through his ability to block shots and control the glass and can now be attacked by a player as skilled as Pau.  After Big Ben, they have rookie Greg Monroe and the undersized Jason Maxiell.  And that’s it.  So, I’d say that the Lakers need to attack inside but much of that will depend on the wind in Gasol’s sails and the defensive approach that the Pistons take in trying to control the Spaniard.  In order to maximize the results from Gasol, I’d love to see him operate more on the strong side but initiated with the Center Opposite offensive initiation that involves an open post being filled by a flashing big man (in this case, Pau).  This way, Pau catches the ball on the move and can potentially use his height and reach advantage in a manner that allows him to get the ball closer to the hoop.

When it comes to containing the Pistons, we look again to the perimeter and their seemingly endless supply of players that have the skill set to hurt the Lakers.  Nearly every Piston guard, wing, or power forward is comfortable shooting the ball out to the three point line and they’ll run a variety of pick and pop plays to get screeners open to shoot the long ball.  Meanwhile, along the baseline, Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon will be trying to wear out Kobe, Artest, and Barnes by running them off stagger screens so they can catch and shoot off picks and curls into the mid-range area of the court.  These are the types of players and sets that have given the Lakers problems this year and tonight, regardless of the quality of the team they face, they will be tested by them.

One other facet of the game I’ll be watching closely is the pace.  Detroit currently operates at the 4th slowest pace in the entire league (for comparisons sake, the Lakers rank 7th fastest).  But, one of the ways that teams have tried to attack the Lakers recently is by pushing the ball at them in order to avoid facing their half court defense.  Phoenix and Denver do this naturally so the fact that they employed this tactic is understandable.  However, the Bucks did the same thing last night to the point that they were running after made baskets like it was Mike D’Antoni pacing their sideline instead of Scott Skiles.  Tonight, if the Pistons are running after makes or pushing the ball at every turn you can bet that this is the strategy that teams think works best to defeat the Lakers and that we, as fans, better get used to seeing some high scoring games just off the strength that this is what teams are trying.

Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time out West on KCAL.  Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.