Archives For November 2010

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From Kevin Ding, OC Register: One of the oldest teams in the NBA, the Lakers are absolutely not prioritizing building for the future. That’s why there is only one player in their current playing rotation you could accurately describe as an up-and-coming player. He’s Shannon Brown, who showed again Tuesday night what progress he has made from being a player on the rise only in terms of his vertical leap. Yes, the Lakers’ number of up-and-comers will double to two once Andrew Bynum comes back from his latest knee surgery. But don’t mistakenly believe that is coming as soon as Thanksgiving.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Their 118-107 victory Tuesday over the Milwaukee Bucks needs to be taken with a dose of perspective, considering the Lakers initial eight-game winning streak invited questions about breaking the 72 regular-season mark and their two-game losing streak brought up concerns that their early-season success was a mirage. Losing three games in a row — which has happened only once since the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol in February 2008 — would open the floodgates up even more. More importantly, the Lakers started off a three-game trip on a good note and they displayed a few positive developments detailed below.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Something about the Lakers makes teams shoot the lights out, it seems. The Bucks, not exactly noted for their outside gunning, came out red hot from the perimeter, making five of seven 3-pointers in the first quarter, part of a 12-for-19 outburst that included a ton of long jumpers. Milwaukee kept it up through the first half, really. But rather than get impatient, the Lakers kept doing what they needed to do offensively. They didn’t fall in love with the three, taking most of their looks from downtown off passes from the interior or penetration. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol was a steady force inside, scoring 14 first-half points. Artest put himself in the post, as did Bryant. Lamar Odom did good work there, as well, and as a team the Lakers piled up fouls against the home team, earning themselves 19 trips to the line in the first 24 minutes (they’d finish with 29, making 24).

From Dave McMenamin, Land O’ Lakers: Before you start calling Shannon Brown the NBA’s Most Improved Player or the Sixth Man of the Year, here’s another nickname that fits and he doesn’t need a media vote at the end of the year to earn it. How about Mr. Fourth Quarter? Everybody knows how supremely clutch Kobe Bryant is at the end of ball games, but if Bryant is Mariano Rivera, then Brown is one heck of a set-up man. Brown scored a season-high 21 points in just 22 minutes of playing time, going 7-for-9 from the field, 4-for-5 on 3-pointers and 3-for-3 from the foul line. He also added three rebounds and a steal.

From C. A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: I don’t remember exactly where I read it earlier today, but some idiot was talking about how tonight’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks was going to be different than most of the contests the Lakers have seen so far this season.  Different, because unlike most of the opponents the Lakers have faced so far, Milwaukee is a superior defensive team (ranked #1 coming in) and a terrible offensive team (ranked #29 coming in), so the Lakers might struggle to score a bit more than usual, but should come through with some decent defense.

From Michael Hunt, Journal Sentential: Someone actually asked Phil Jackson on Tuesday night if his Los Angeles Lakers could learn something from the Milwaukee Bucks. The Zen Master could’ve said the 17-time champs have won more titles in the last 16 months than Bucks have in 42 years. He could’ve said Brandon Jennings was 11 years old when Kobe Bryant was fitted for the first of his five rings. But he didn’t. Even if Jackson can knock down the sarcastic barb like Kobe does the occasional game-winning shot, the man with more NBA championships than anyone understood where the question was going. The Lakers haven’t been playing Lakers-like defense at a time when the Bucks have been defending like they’re guarding the last bucket of water on Earth.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Andrew Bynum was asked Tuesday if he was still on track for his hoped-for Thanksgiving season debut. “Sounds about right,” Bynum said. Bynum, recovering from offseason knee surgery, was reluctant to divulge much, saying: “I don’t want to change expectations.” It’s possible Bynum was only remaining agreeable to the Thanksgiving estimate, which would mean playing Nov. 26 in Utah, and wasn’t in position to pick a new date. But Bynum, who is needed additionally because center Theo Ratliff is out at least a month because of knee surgery, added that he had a lot to say when he was ready to talk formally.

From Terry Foster, The Detroit News: As Kobe Bryant stood at the free-throw line at The Palace during the Lakers’ visit last season, Michael Lampp stood, cupped his hands and screamed: “MVP! MVP! MVP!” Not an unusual scene, by any stretch. But it is considering Lampp was rooting against his hometown Pistons. “To me he is a legend,” Lampp said. “He is the best player in the game. I know a lot of people will say LeBron James. I think Kobe is in a different category. He lives to take that last shot. He is the most clutch athlete I have ever seen and I cheer for him every time he comes around.” Tonight, when the Lakers visit again, there likely will be hundreds of purple-and-gold Bryant jerseys in the stands.

AP Photo/Morry Gash

AP Photo/Morry Gash

After two consecutive losses one had to figure that the Lakers would enter Milwaukee ready to play and looking to end their losing ways.  Mission accomplished.  The Lakers have officially bounced back after taking down the Bucks 118-107 to improve their record to nine up, two down on the season.  But in the first half it didn’t look like it would actually go that way…

And that’s because Milwaukee was firing on all cylinders on offense.  If you look strictly at the numbers from the first half you’d think that this game was just Sunday’s effort against the Suns redux.  The Bucks were hitting a very high percentage of their three point shots and the Lakers just couldn’t seem to defend effectively.  In fact, in the comments of the game thread you saw folks coming to that exact conclusion.  However, after reviewing the first half I can say that wasn’t really the case.  Despite the Bucks hanging 59 points on the Lakers through the first 24 minutes, most of those shots were either great makes on the types of shots you want a team shooting or decent looks from so-so shooters that happened to go down.  Whether it was Drew Gooden firing up long twos or the Lakers (correctly) going under screens on Brandon Jennings and the young Buck draining threes, the Lakers really weren’t giving up the types of looks that would hurt them over the course of an entire game.

Don’t get me wrong, on several defensive possessions the Lakers were beat easily off the dribble and/or didn’t close out effectively.  On many other possessions, the Bucks used the successful strategy employed by the Suns, Nuggets, and T-Wolves and pushed the ball up court against a sluggish transition defense in order to get good looks while the Lakers scrambled to recover.  But so many of the Bucks makes actually came on defense that I could live with.  Shots were contested but fell anyways.  And when that’s the case, you tip your cap and try to get your own bucket on the other end to keep pace.  And the Lakers did just that, all the while hoping that the offensive display the Bucks were putting on wouldn’t last.  Well guess what?  It didn’t.

In the 2nd half, the Bucks began to miss some of those long jumpers and the Lakers just continued to plug away on offense in order to keep the game close enough where any sort of patented Laker push would be enough to get them over the hump.  Primarily using a Kobe-centric attack, the Lakers attacked the paint both off the dribble and in the post and either got good shots or drew fouls.  When the Bucks started to collapse into the paint, the Lakers made the correct pass to open shooters and gave the guys on the perimeter a chance to get up good looks against the sagging D.  Overall, it just seemed like a matter of time before the Lakers would get the needed stops and make enough shots of their own to pull away.

Which is exactly what happened.  In the fourth quarter with Kobe on the bench and a “run the offense” group of Blake, Shannon, Walton, Barnes, and Gasol in the game the Lakers ramped up the execution on both sides of the ball and started to pull away.  Crisp passes led to easy dunks by Gasol and Barnes.  Tightened defense and improved rebounding led to open court chances where the Lakers guards got some of the most open shots they’d see all game.  Led by Shannon Brown’s 4th quarter explosion of deep jumpers (have I mentioned that we should let Shannon shoot?) the Lakers ultimately pushed their lead to 10 points and never looked back.  By the time that Kobe and Odom checked back in with a shade under 7 minutes remaining, this game was essentially in hand with both teams trading baskets the rest of way.

Overall, this may not have been the Lakers best game, but I won’t lose any sleep over the final numbers or the execution on both sides of the ball.  The Bucks came in as the #1 defensive team in the league and the Lakers fairly easily put up 118 points with an offensive rating of 125.7 (9 points above their league leading average).  And, again, while their defensive numbers weren’t that strong, this is where the eyeball test tells me that the Bucks just had one of those nights where more shots fell than normal and their rhythm wasn’t easily broken.  Believe me, as someone that’s been harping on the defense for past week and a half, it’d be easy for me to say “look at the numbers”, but tonight that wasn’t the case.  So really, just enjoy this win as the Lakers are now hopefully starting a new streak as they visit the Pistons tomorrow night.

And since I’ve got some numbers on my mind, here are a few more that stood out to me:

*Kobe only played 33 minutes on the night, which is right on his season average.  But, he did a lot of work in those minutes.  His stat line on the night isn’t the most efficient as he only made 10 of his 23 shots, but when looking closer he actually was quite good offensively.  When you take away is 0-4 effort from deep, Kobe made more than half his two point attempts and all 11 of his FT’s.  When you add to that his 7 rebounds and 3 assists (with 3 turnovers) he was very good tonight.

*Speaking of FT’s, the Lakers made 24 of their 29 from the charity stripe tonight.  For those without a calculator handy, that’s 82.8 from the line.  When you consider that Pau was an uncharacteristic 4-7 from the line, those numbers could have been even better.  One of the (slightly) hidden keys to the Lakers’ offensive success this season is the fact that they’re 4th in the league in FT% (80.3).  And while their attempts per game are in the bottom third of the league, they’re still getting to the line enough that those extra points are really contributing to how efficiently the Lakers are able to score.

*It’s funny how good Gasol has been this year because tonight he essentially reached his averages from last season – 18 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists – and it seems like a ho-hum kind of game.  He had to play a lot of minutes again tonight, but he never seemed winded and was moving well at the end of the game despite the extended run.  We’ll see if this affects him tomorrow against Detroit.

*I haven’t mentioned his name a lot this season but Derek Fisher was pretty good tonight.  He may have only shot 3-7 from the field, but he made both of his three pointers and was active and smart on defense (despite Jennings’ good results).  For the year he’s shooting over 50% from three and is at his normal clip of 85% from the FT line.  Also, I know this gets brought up a fair amount but the man is now going into his 6th straight season of not missing a game.

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Records: Lakers 8-2 (3rd in West), Bucks 5-5 (6th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 116.7 (1st in NBA), Bucks 99.8 (29th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 107.5 (16th in NBA), Bucks 96.9 (1st in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Bucks: Brandon Jennings, John Salmons, Luc Mbah a Moute, Drew Gooden, Andrew Bogut
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Bucks: Carlos Delfino (doubtful), Chris Douglass-Roberts (out), Michael Redd (out)

The Lakers Coming in:  The Lakers are a favorite to win the championship come June.  Something drastic and truly catastrophic would need to happen for that to no longer be the case this season.  But that doesn’t mean things will always be roses and rainbows for this group and right now is one of those times.  They’re coming off consecutive losses, are still operating without Andrew Bynum, and now face a couple more injury issues to deal with to their frontcourt. 

Both Theo Ratliff and Lamar Odom have undergone MRI’s and while Lamar’s diagnosis is a bone bruise that should allow him to play (albeit in some discomfort), the news is not as good for Ratliff who will require surgery on his knee to aid what ails him.  This means the Lakers will be without a back up Center for the foreseeable future and with a potentially limited Odom too.  So, expect even more minutes for Gasol (who’s already been averaging his most minutes since the ’06 season), for Caracter to see more burn (no trips to Bakersfield in his immediate future), and for the Lakers to explore more small ball lineups where Artest and Barnes get even more run at PF than they have so far this season.

Mind you, this doesn’t create a situation that the Lakers can’t overcome but it does stretch them quite thin up front and means that the little things the Lakers haven’t been doing that well already – rebounding, protecting the paint – will get a bit harder.  However, such is life in the NBA and I can guarantee no one is weeping for the defending champs.  On a side and completely related note, get well soon Andrew Bynum…

The Bucks Coming in:  Milwaukee is a hot team right now as they’ve won 3 games in a row and 4 of their last 5.  And like every other team coached by Scott Skiles, they’ve been winning games on the strength of their defense.  The Bucks lead the league in defensive efficiency and have only allowed one team to score 100 points or more against them all season (and it took an overtime period for Boston to break that threshold).  They’re a hard nosed team that will pressure the ball, rotate well, and contest every shot you take from any position on the floor. 

However, whe’re they’ve been struggling is on offense.  They’re second to last in offensive rating and don’t have any single player that is a consistent threat on that side of the ball.  Their leading scorer (Brandon Jennings) averages 15.7 points a night and their four other best scorers all chip in with about 13 points per game.  It’s no wonder they’re playing .500 ball as they can suffocate teams on one end but can’t score enough for it to really matter on the other.

You’ll notice some new faces on this year’s Bucks as they’ve added Drew Gooded via free agency and Corey Maggette via trade.  These two were supposed to add some punch to their offense but, again, that hasn’t really been the case.  In essense, this team has taken on the identity of their head coach for better and for worse.  Until they can consistently score the ball, they’ll need to hope that their defense is strong enough to limit the other team so that they grind out the wins.

Bucks Blogs: Jeremy is doing a great job covering this team over at Bucksetball.  You can read his preview for tonight’s game here.

Keys to game:  This is the first night of a three game in four nights trip to the mid-west as the Lakers finally leave the comfy confines of the west coast to get some games in.  Personally, I love when teams go out on the road as it gives the guys a chance to really come together and start to build that chemistry that fuels championship teams.  However, winning tonight will take more than a group dinner at one of Milwaukee’s great steakhouses. 

 It will take an effort that’ been somewhat lacking in the past week or so.  While effort is usually equated to defense, rebounding, etc, I’m really talking about focus and attention to detail and then following through by actually acting out what needs to be done.  This means executing the offense by making the post entry pass in a timely manner and then cutting and screening hard.  It means understanding that when shot goes up that players need to be boxed out and the ball secured before racing down court to try and set up on offense.  Mostly it means playing hard and smart basketball because you can bet the Bucks will be playing that way.

From an offensive X’s and O’s standpoint, the Lakers need to run a bit less P&R and more straight post ups on the strong side with screen actions on the weakside to open up slashers for easy shots in the paint.  If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in recent games it’s the Lakers tendency to run more P&R as an initial option rather than relying on the traditional ball movement that develops from the motions of the Triangle.  If the Lakers continue that trend tonight, they’ll find mobile bigs like Bogut and Mbah a Moute closing down penetration lanes while still showing the ability to recover to the paint and rebound.  The Lakers will be much better off if the ball goes into the hub of the Triangle in the strongside post with the weakside big flashing into the paint to score over the undersized (outside of Bogut) Bucks front line.  These cuts and interior passes will not only lead to easier buckets inside, but will also loosen up the perimeter D and give the Lakers guards/wings open shots as the Bucks have to help in the paint more.

Defensively, the Lakers must control Jennings operating in space and in the P&R.  Jennings likes push the ball and see if there’s an opening in transition and if there isn’t he’ll slow the ball up and run P&R to try and penetrate to create for himself or a teammate.  Traditionally the Lakers do a good job keeping ball handlers to one side of the floor and tonight that will be tested as Jennings is very good at going to his left from the right side of the floor in order to find cracks in the defense.  If the Lakers can force him to the right side and keep him there, it will go a long way towards slowing an already stagnant Bucks offense.

The other two players I’ll be watching closely are John Salmons and Corey Maggette.  Salmons has traditionally been a Laker killer who thrives in isolation and curls off screens to get open and shoot his mid range jumper.  Artest and/or Kobe will have their hands full when dealing with Salmons and could use help from their big men when he comes hard off screens looking to catch and shoot.  Remember too, Salmons is another player who seems to play his best when the Lakers are the opponent so focussing in on him should go a long way tonight.  As for Maggette, he can be a real spark off the bench for the Bucks and will always be in attack mode.  He’s excellent at drawing fouls and considering the Lakers current depth issues up front, this team can ill afford Corey crashing his way into the paint and getting early whistles against LO or Pau.  The Lakers wings must do a good job of marking him in transition and making him pull up for jumpers by laying off and not getting beat off the bounce.

Tonight isn’t a season maker by any means but it’s another good test for a variety of reasons.  This is only the 4th road game for the Lakers but the first that is further than Denver when looking at a map.  That extra travel can wear on a team and this is first time LA is going on any kind of extended trip.  It’s also the first time this year that the Lakers have lost twice in a row and it’s pretty rare that this incarnation of the Lakers (with Kobe/Pau) would drop three straight.  So, the Lakers will be looking to come together on the road and beat a playoff team in order to avoid dropping three in a row.  Again, not a season maker but this game has some value to the Lakers.  Here’s hoping they come out and play like it.

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

Tick Tock, Tick Tock…

Jeff Skibiski —  November 15, 2010

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The natural reaction after consecutive disappointing losses is to look around and assess blame. The truth is, even after the Nuggets and Suns made a mockery of the Lakers’ defense, this ship isn’t anywhere close to sinking and is actually going to get a whole lot more durable with Andrew Bynum’s inevitable return. The Lakers strong start to the season, buoyed by an easy slate of opponents, did however mask several of the early season issues that the team will still need to work through on its way to a hopeful three-peat. As I logged onto my Facebook this weekend, I was greeted with an interesting question from my friend and regular FB&G visitor Jay who wanted to talk about one of those issues — minutes distribution. The conversation started like this…

Does Matt Barnes deserve more minutes? Check out his PER (16.44) compared to Artest’s (14.57).

My initial reaction:

It’s an interesting question, for sure, but ultimately, I like where both are at right now. Barnes is well-accustomed to playing a bench role and his confidence isn’t an issue regardless of whether or not he plays big minutes. Ron Ron’s confidence, on the other hand, still — even after his heroic Game 7 play — has a tendency to waver on certain nights. A well-integrated Artest is also much more of an impact player over the course of a 48 minute game than Barnes, who is better used as a spark plug off the pine. Plus, it’s hard to see where the additional minutes would come from if not from Artest’s bucket, especially when Bynum comes back. Without Andrew, the team can go with a smaller lineup and even slot Ron in at power forward if they want, but once he returns, they won’t need to. At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s so much of an issue of whether Matt is deserving of more minutes, but which pool they’ll come from. This is a good problem to have. (Of course, this all changes if Lamar Odom’s mystery foot injury proves more troublesome than expected…)

Another friend added their two cents to the debate:

Artest’s Game 7 was (arguably) L.A.’s most clutch postseason performance since Kirk Gibson’s home run in ’88. If he doesn’t have that game, the Lakers lose in the finals two out of three years, and both times to the Celtics. The implications of a loss in that game were horrifying: I lose $1,000 bucks and I have to listen to Boston fans, not only for an entire year…but forever. Does that grant him blanket approval for increased playing time over Barnes? At this point…yes. We’re still only eight games in; I just put out my post Championship cigarette. Barnes has adapted early and well, but Artest has tenure, a championship and sweet hair. Should he start to falter and cost us games mid-season, then absolutely a change should be made.

Facebook diatribes aside, the discussion got me thinking about the larger issue of how Coach Jackson has distributed minutes approximately one-eighth of the way through the season. For as much flack as Jackson gets about coaching stacked, championship-ready rosters, he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his often masterful job of keeping all of his players happy with their allotted minutes. So far, this season has been no exception as I’m generally pleased with the minutes each of the players has averaged so far. I especially like the fact that Kobe is only averaging 33 minutes a night, which bodes well for his aging legs as the season goes on. At 39 minutes, Gasol is right about where I expected him. Lamar Odom’s minutes are a little higher than normal at 34, but that’s to be expected considering he’s taken on a starting role in Bynum’s absence. I, like many observers, was a bit concerned about an eventual burnout from Odom after playing for Team USA, but so far, we haven’t seen any signs of slowing from Lamar. To the contrary, he appears to be in the best shape of his life, though a more accurate indicator of his energy supply might not come ’til later on in the season.

I expected Fisher to play a little less than he has (28 minutes), considering the rampant preseason speculation that Steve Blake (18 minutes) would eventually unseat Derek as the starting one at some point this season. I do still expect Blake’s minutes to steadily rise as the season progresses and he becomes even more comfortable running the triangle. However, I mostly attribute the somewhat unexpected minute distribution at the guard slot to the remarkable consistency of Shannon Brown. Brown has firmly entrenched himself as a go-to scorer off the bench this season, averaging 10 points on 49% shooting from the floor. Shannon’s improved play isn’t without consequence, though, as Sasha Vujacic (six minutes) had barely seen the light of day prior to (temporarily) moving up the charts last night thanks to Blake’s illness. Again, as is the case with Artest and Barnes at small forward, this is one of those problems that the coaching staff is happy to have on their plate.

The rooks — Devin Ebanks and Derek Caracter — have both seen some early season floor time, more so in the case of the former. Caracter (six minutes) had a golden opportunity to engender the trust of the Lakers coaching staff (or as much trust as Jackson will place in a rookie) with Bynum out early, but has yet to show the consistency needed to become a regular contributor in his first year. Ebanks’s relative preseason success hasn’t exactly translated to his regular season play for the Lakers as he’s shooting a woeful 17% from the field in just under eight minutes of playing time. There’s plenty of time for the pair of second rounders to learn the tricks of the trade, though, so I’d rather focus on the fact that both have at least seen some playing time so far.

As far as (early) early season progress reports go, I think Jackson’s astute management of minutes through 10 games and the emergence of Brown, Blake and Barnes off the bench have set the Lakers up well to absorb the grind of the next 72 games and hopefully an extended playoff run. Are you happy with where everyone’s at minutes-wise so far?

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From Kevin Ding, OC Register: The Lakers’ cavalier approach Sunday night was first evident in their high turnover total. There would soon be a statistic that really showed how they were a step behind. The Phoenix Suns made 22 3-point shots – one shy of Orlando’s 2009 record for one team in an NBA game – and dealt the Lakers their second consecutive loss after an 8-0 start. Phoenix won, 121-116, behind 34 points by Jason Richardson, who hit 7 of 10 3-point shots. “They shot the ball lights-out,” Kobe Bryant said of the Suns. Lakers forward Lamar Odom was called for a technical foul after scoring inside – arguing he’d been fouled by Hedo Turkoglu – and Steve Nash’s free throw off Odom’s temperamental moment gave the Suns a 112-109 lead with 53.7 seconds left.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: The sequence soon became as monotonous and predictable as a blow-‘em-up summer blockbuster. The Suns dribbled up the floor, swung the ball around the perimeter and then waited for an open cutter to appear beyond the arc. Whether taking place from the corner, the top of the key or from 25 feet out or more, the Suns wouldn’t see a three-pointer they didn’t like. The Lakers’ 121-116 loss Sunday to the Phoenix Suns gives them their second consecutive loss and points to a problem that’s bothered them all season long — a failure to defend. Sometimes that’s entailed the Lakers messing up on defending screen and rolls, failing to block off driving lanes or performing on help defense when needed. But against Phoenix, the Lakers’ most egregious defensive problem was their failure to overplay the perimeter.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: By the time you finish reading this sentence, the Phoenix Suns will have buried another three. You should know what that looks like by now. It only happened 22 times in the Lakers’ 116 to 121 loss to Phoenix at Staples Center tonight. Three days after cordially allowing the Denver Nuggets to run a 48-minute layup drill, the purple and gold again enraged their fans with a shameful lack of defense. Their perimeter D tonight was as lazy, haphazard and slow-footed as you’ll ever see, and the Suns’ array of shooters seized the opportunity to bomb the living hell out of the defending champs. The Lakers fall to 8-2 and third place in the Western Conference. Oh, and Lamar Odom has a bone bruise on his right foot that he needs to get MRI’d. Other than that, how was the ride, Mrs. Kennedy?

From Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: Down by six with 34.7 seconds left in the game, Kobe Bryant made the catch and from 32 feet away (according to ESPN’s Play-by-Play data), let fire a three that barely grazed the rim: The ball went out of bounds off of the Suns, and the Lakers were able to maintain possession.  After inbounding it to Kobe in the corner, he let another three rip, again not being able to connect. At first, these two quick shots had me scratching my head, until I realized what Kobe was trying to do.  His first shot came with about 34 seconds left, and if it goes in there will probably be around 30 seconds left in the game, with the Suns’ lead cut down to just three points.  This means that the Lakers wouldn’t have had to foul, and if they were able to get one stop, the Lakers would have had a chance to send the game into overtime.  When you think about it, you understand why Kobe jacked up those threes.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: With the Suns periodically swarming the post, the Lakers occasionally found it difficult to get Pau the ball, but he responded by consistently crashing the glass and creating second-chance opportunities for himself and the Lakers. Nine of his 17 rebounds came on the offensive end, as Gasol stuck with virtually every shot the Lakers hoisted from the perimeter. He was extremely efficient with his shot, finishing 12-for-17 from the floor, en route to 28 points. No question, Gasol was part of the team’s defensive breakdowns as well, but when he made mistakes, he certainly had plenty of company.  Gasol was also smart about his movements against Phoenix’s defense. On one first-half play, he turned a front from Channing Frye into a screen for Shannon Brown, who was driving from the wing. Gasol sealed off Frye, leaving nobody there to defend the rim. He was also good moving the ball out of traffic to create chances for teammates.

From J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: You know the old saying goes: Live by the 3-pointer — absolutely flourish by the 3-pointer. Set a franchise record for shooting the 3-pointer. Beat the defending champions by the 3-pointer. The 3-pointer was Phoenix’s sole form of sustenance on Sunday and the Suns thrived on it. They made 22 3-pointers, one shy of the NBA record set by the Orlando Magic in January 2009, enabling Phoenix to hand the Lakers their second consecutive loss after opening the season 8-0. Three-pointers accounted for more than half of the Suns’ 43 field goals. Their long-ball accuracy was enough to overcome a 49-39 rebounding deficit and enough to overcome the Lakers’ 68-28 advantage on points in the paint.

From Robert Karpeles, NBA Fanhouse: The Phoenix Suns beat the Los Angeles Lakers 121-116 Sunday night at Staples Center by doing what they do best: making 3-pointers. In fact, the Suns made 22 of them against the Lakers, a franchise record and second most all-time in NBA history. The Orlando Magic hit 23 three-pointers against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 13, 2009. Twenty-two is also the most threes the Lakers have allowed in a game in their franchise history.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom will undergo a MRI on Monday to examine his sore right foot. “It’s been aching, especially in the morning,” Odom said. “I’ve played a lot of basketball. Hopefully it’s just wear and tear, hopefully, and there’s nothing wrong.” Odom removed his sneaker and had his foot re-taped on the bench during the second half Sunday, but went back into the game. Odom finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds in Sunday’s 121-116 loss to the Phoenix Suns. It was the fifth double-double in 10 games this season for Odom, who is averaging 15.1 points and 10.9 rebounds on 58.6 percent shooting from the field this year. The extra basketball Odom referred to was his gold medal run this summer with Team USA at the FIBA World Championship in Istanbul.

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UPDATE: Kelly Dwyer just updated Ball Don’t Lie with this short post on that play Kobe threw the ball off the backboard to himself. One of the cool plays to go back and watch.


(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

In basketball, they say you live by the three and you die by the three. Well, tonight the Suns lived like rich kings in massive castles constructed on the strength of their hot shooting.  They literally could not miss from distance for much of the night and it all led to the Lakers second consecutive loss as they  fell to the Suns 121-116.

I’m going to be completely honest here, this is a difficult game for me to really get a grasp on.  I mean, sometimes there are games that are microcosms of a season and sometimes games are an anomaly.  Tonight’s game against the Suns was a bit of both.  Because while the Suns were ridiculously hot, sinking 22 of their 40 three point attempts (setting a new franchise record and falling one short of tying an NBA record) – a stat that is a bit fluky in itself, they did so against a Lakers defense that was mostly lax, but other times quite good.

So, there’s no real way for me to break this game down other than to say that Phoenix was quite good at hitting their three point shots.  Most times that was because the Lakers defense was struggling to find shooters in transition or because the Suns penetration broke down the D which forced the Lakers to help and opened up passing lanes to other shooters.  Other times the Lakers were just a step slow and paid for it with a made 3 ball from one of the six Suns players that buried such a shot.  But there were also times where the Lakers did everything right and still paid with a made three pointer by their opponent.  At one point in the 2nd quarter I went from frustrated Laker fan to completely in awe of the display that the Suns were putting on, their shooting was so good.  It literally looked like a lay up line from 23 feet away.  There are many nights where a lesser team would have cooled off, but tonight the Suns were not a lesser team.

But, despite all of the made bombs, this game was still close.  And you only need to look at the boxscore to figure out why.  The Lakers out rebounded the Suns by 17 (49-32) and outscored them by 40 in the paint (68-28).  Kobe, Gasol, and Odom combined for 75 points, 37 rebounds, and 20 assists.  The Lakers pretty much had their way with the Suns in the paint (who were without Robin Lopez for most of the night due to a sprained knee he suffered in the first half) and seemed to be able to get a good look inside whenever they wanted.  It only seemed like a matter of time before the Lakers clamped down on defense (or the Suns just started missing) and then proceed to get the baskets they needed to pull away.

Only, it never really happened.  And this is why this game is both an anomaly and starting to feel like a trend on the season.  You see, the Lakers just haven’t brought the same caliber of defense in the early part of this campaign.  We can blame it on a variety of factors – integrating new players, missing Andrew Bynum, playing very good offenses – but the fact remains that the Lakers have been hovering around 10th in the NBA in defensive efficiency and unless they start to play smarter and harder on that side of the ball that number isn’t going to change.  I’m nowhere close to saying that the Lakers won’t improve as the above mentioned factors change for the better, but it’s also going to take the Lakers shifting their focus more to performing better on that side of the ball.  Defense is a mentality and the Lakers have had a wandering focus this season.

All that said, I’m not anywhere near panicking.  Despite the Lakers not playing very good defense (and even when they did, the Suns beating it anyway) this game was still ripe for the taking.  In the closing minute the Lakers cut the lead to 2 after getting a stop and running a very good offensive possession that resulted in Odom getting a lay up.  However on that play, Odom’s emotions got the best of him and he drew a technical foul for complaining to the ref for not calling a foul on the finish.  After the subsequent FT by Nash pushed the lead to 3, Hedo Turkoglu hit a (what else) deep three to push the lead back to 6 and that was essentially the ball game.  Kobe did try to hit a couple of three point shots that could be considered questionable, but I didn’t have too much a problem with those shots considering the time on the clock, the FT shooters that the Suns possess, and the fact that it was a two possession game.  The circumstances were not with the Lakers and if it wasn’t quite desperation time, it would be very quickly.  In those instances the ball belongs in Kobe’s hands and I’m usually trusting of what happens next.

In the end though, the Lakers fell short and we sit here wondering how two winnable games became losses.  There are definitely areas that need improvement and places to assign blame but I think going too far in that direction would be a mistake.  Yes the team needs to play better defense (which is probably an understatement), but getting healthy and finally having the full roster at the coach’s disposal is a bigger key for me.  This is even more the case with word just coming out tonight that Odom is undergoing an MRI on his foot for what Phil Jackson is calling a “bone bruise”.  This team shouldn’t be judged too harshly yet, not after 10 games and a couple of close, though tough to swallow losses.  I’m still preaching patience (and will be for a while) as the marathon of this season is just getting started.

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Records: Lakers 8-1, Suns 4-4
Offensive ratings: Lakers 116.1 (1st), Suns 111.5 (2nd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.3 (10th), Suns 110.9 (28th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Suns: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Hedo Turkoglu and Robin Lopez.
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are looking to rebound big after their first loss of the season to the Nuggets on Thursday. With a few days off between games, the Lakers should be well-rested against Phoenix, which is probably a good thing since Phoenix will look to use their smaller lineup to spread the court and turn tonight’s matchup into a running game. It’s no secret that L.A. didn’t play well down the stretch against Denver, but the loss hopefully served as a reminder that talent alone isn’t going to help the Lakers execute down the stretch of close games.

The Lakers hit the road for three games after tonight, beginning with Milwaukee on Tuesday. Looking ahead to the month of December when they’ll play a majority of road games, I expect L.A. to come out with a focused business-like effort tonight.

The Suns Coming in: At 4-4, Phoenix is just about where most insiders expected them to be this season — a borderline playoff team, capable of beating a strong team on a good night, but equally susceptible to losing to the league’s lesser half as well. In their defense, they’ve had an extremely difficult schedule so far, already playing against L.A., San Antonio, Portland, Utah and Atlanta.

The seemingly ageless wonder Steve Nash is doing more than ever for the Suns, absent another marquee superstar a la Amar’e Stoudemire. On the season, the Canadian is averaging 20 points and 10 assists in just 34 minutes per game, with a PER of 24. In fact, in the Suns most recent win against the Grizzlies on Friday night, Nash came within three rebounds of notching his fourth career triple double, scoring a season-high 28 points to go along with 14 assists and seven rebounds. Jason Richardson has also emerged as a more consistent scorer for the Suns this season, averaging 21 points and scoring at least 15 in Phoenix’s first seven games of the season. While Hakim Warrick’s 13 points have helped ease the burden some inside, the Suns are still a team woefully lacking in that department. That and the fact that they give up just about the same amount of points as they score (107) has resulted in a mediocre start to the season.

Suns Blogs: Be sure to check our Valley of the Suns for the latest updates from the desert.

Keys to the game:

The Lakers will want to avoid the track meet they got into the last time these two teams met on Oct. 29 — a 114-106 win for the forum blue and gold. In that game, Grant Hill went off for 21 points on 10-17 shooting and Robin Lopez had one of his better games of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds — numbers well above his season averages.

The Lakers need to control the battle of the boards against a much smaller Suns squad. I’d especially look for Pau Gasol to take it upon himself to dominate inside tonight after his largely lifeless second half against the Nuggets on Thursday. Lamar Odom always seems to play well against Phoenix and I’m sure the coaching staff wouldn’t mind a repeat of his 18 point, 17 rebound performance when L.A. beat the Suns earlier this season.

I’d also look for Kobe to have a strong rebound effort after shooting just 11-32 from the field against Denver and seemingly choosing to revert to 2006 Kobe in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Lakers have an enormous size advantage against the Suns and Bryant would be wise take advantage of that and play more of a facilitator role, at least early on in the game.

The Suns are a deep, but ultimately imbalanced team who rely too much on outside shooting and not enough on defense and rebounding. In seasons past, their bench has caused problems for the Lakers, but thanks to the Killer B’s, L.A. has hardly missed a beat when resting its starters through nine games. Phoenix’s energy has also been an issue for L.A. in past seasons, but Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown have injected new juice of their own into the Lakers lineup. Perhaps most surprising on that front for Phoenix this season has been the aforementioned Nash’s resurgence. As he goes, so go the Suns, so the impetus must be placed early on stopping Steve from going on one of his signature hot streaks. As is always the case anytime L.A. plays Phoenix, they’ll need to control the flow of the game from the outset. For that reason, I’d look for the Lakers to come out of the gates with a strong first quarter, quickly establishing control of the game and ensuring that it is played on their terms.

Even without Stoudemire, the Suns play L.A. with confidence and have enough pieces leftover from their Western Conference Finals run to give the Lakers a strong challenge before they head out on the road for their first mini-trip of the season.

Where you can watch: Fox Sports West at 6:30 p.m. or listen live on 710 ESPN Radio.

Early on this season I don’t think there’s been a bigger (and welcomed) surprise than the improved play of Shannon Brown.  The man who’s been best known for his high flying exploits has returned this season with a more well rounded game that’s been a major factor in the Lakers’ improved bench play this year.  This isn’t to say that he’s abandoned his above the rim play, because he’s still making plenty of plays using his extraordinary athleticism.  But he’s shown a much more balanced game where he’s more controlled in the open court and making more plays for his teammates than in season’s past.

But the biggest improvement has come in his shooting.  This season his shooting percentage is up to 49.3% after only knocking down 42.7% of his shots last year.  And much of that improvement is due to his shooting from distance where he’s hitting 45.2% of his threes through the first 9 games after only shooting 32.8% last season.  I remember thinking during the preseason that I’d need to wait to see if Shannon’s shot continued to fall during the regular season to really believe that he’s improved.  Well, it has and I am now a believer.  He may not stay at 45% from long range for the year, but if he keeps taking shots in rhythm and with his feet set, I do expect him to continue to bury the long ball with better consistency.

So, after saying all that, enjoy the video below of opening night where Shannon went off in the 4th quarter and helped the Lakers pull out the win over the Rockets on ring night.  Because it was when watching these shots go down that I really started to understand the hard work that Shannon had put in and how much confidence he now has in his jumper.