Archives For December 2010

Happy New Year!

Darius Soriano —  December 31, 2010

I know the Lakers play tonight and for all things game related, we’ve got you covered.  But, as we transition from one decade to the next I wanted to wish each and all of you a Happy New Year.

And what a decade it’s been for us Lakers fans.  Five Championships and two additional Finals appearances gave all of us that root for this team the highest highs sports fans can experience.

2011 promises to be another great year for us fans as the Lakers compete for the game’s greatest achievement and for that I’m extremely thankful.  So, again have a happy and safe New Year and I’ll see all of you on the other side.

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Records: Lakers 22-10 (3rd in West), 76ers 13-19 (8th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.6 (2nd in NBA), 76ers 104.7 (21st in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.7 (11th in NBA), 76ers 105.4 (13th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
76ers: Jrue Holliday, Jodie Meeks, Andres Nocioni, Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); 76ers: Andre Iguodala and Jason Kapono (both questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: A dominating win over the Hornets to end a 3 game losing streak has quelled some of the questions about this team.  By going inside, showing better focus, and executing better the Lakers have gotten back on track.  Bynum’s return to starter status aided the Lakers on offense and on defense and put Odom back on the bench where he flourished in his first game as a reserve since last season.  All that said, the point is to now build on that performance and find an extended groove.  What’s plagued the Lakers this year has been a combination of execution and complacency so here’s hoping that a much needed win where those negatives were a no-show further helps this team understand what needs to be done as the calendar turns to the new year.

The 76ers Coming in: Tonight the Sixers play their 7th game of an 8 game trip that started nearly two weeks ago (ironically, the day after these two teams last met).  So far on their trip they’ve split their 6 contests, going three and three against some very good teams.  In that time they’ve defeated Orlando and Denver, and just two days ago they blasted the Phoenix Suns by 13 when they put up a season high 123 points.  Even more impressive is the fact that they did it without their best player as Andre Iguodala has had to sit out the past two games while nursing a sore achilles.  You would have thought that with their best player on the pine Coach Doug Collins would have opened up his rotation more, but instead he did the opposite.  In the game Collins only used 8 players and the shortened rotation delivered for him with 7 of the 8 guys scoring in double digits (only Jodie Meeks was left out of the fun).  The player that seemed to play especially well was rookie Evan Turner as he scored 23 points on only 12 shots for what I’m sure many would say was his best game of the season.  So, just as the Lakers, this team is looking to build on a very good performance before we hit 2011.

76ers Blogs: Check out Philadunkia for all your 76ers hoops info.  Liberty Ballers also has you covered.

Keys to game: Not to sound too cliché but this game will come down to who’s style wins out.

Philly will want to play pressure defense in order to force turnovers and push the pace.  With Holliday and reserve guard Lou Williams, they have a PG combination that has the right ingredients to play a quick tempo against the bigger, stronger Lakers.  Whether or not Iguodala plays will affect this strategy some, but not too much.  If anything, having Nocioni in the line up means that Philly will try to run just as much, but with Nocioni running to the three point line rather than for layups like Iggy would.

Meanwhile, the Lakers will want to carry over their plan from New Orleans and pound the ball inside.  With Bynum now starting, both he and Gasol will have major advantages inside against Hawes and Brand.  The Lakers will surely look to slow the pace and look to get their inside players going with direct post ups into their sideline Triangle sets and weak side duck ins for Pau and ‘Drew when the ball reverses.

As for Kobe, look for him to do a lot of ball handling tonight (and moving forward in future games).  With Bynum back and Odom as reserve, Kobe moves off the wing (where he moves in and out of the post very easily) to a guard.  This means that Kobe and Fisher will be the primary initiators of offense in the two guard front of the Triangle.  A by product of this will likely be more semi-transition drag screens and standard P&R sets with Kobe quarterbacking to get himself and everyone else involved.  I especially expect to see this action a lot as Hawes is a slow footed big man that will have trouble containing Kobe coming around the corner while still recovering to his man (likely Bynum) that will be diving hard to the hoop.

Tonight’s game will also hinge on rebounding and who controls the glass.  When these two teams met last, the Sixers stayed close for most of the contest (at least partially) because of their great work on the offensive glass.  On that night Philly grabbed 16 of their own misses for an O-rebound rate of 30%.  By getting second shots and forcing Lakers’ turnovers, the Sixers attempted 9 more field goals, using the extra shots to ensure that they’d be in the game until the end.  So if the Lakers want to make this game easier on themselves they’ll control their glass (Bynum will help in this) and be more careful with the ball when operating in the half court.

In the end it will be easy for both teams to be a bit distracted, what with this game on New Year’s Eve and with every player likely having some sort of plans after the contest.  However, both teams are also looking to carry over momentum from their last games and bring in the new year with a W under their belt.  For the Lakers, this being a home game against a lesser team, I’d say that this is a game that’s pretty important.  In the large scheme a loss isn’t the end of the world, but they don’t need a set back tonight.  So, bring focus, smarts, and energy and this one should turn out just fine.  Here’s to a win to close out 2010.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start time out west on Fox Sports.  Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

AP Photo/Sean Gardner

AP Photo/Sean Gardner

When anticipating Andrew Bynum’s return I often focused on the impact he would have defensively.  While Bynum was out of the lineup, the Lakers missed his phenomenal size and length and his ability to block and contest shots both in the paint and when closing out on mid range shooting big men.  Since his return, Bynum’s impact on that side of the ball has been about as good as we could have hoped as he’s stepped right into the game as a paint protector and shot blocker/alterer that the Lakers have sorely lacked with only Gasol and Odom as the backline defenders.

However, last night against the Hornets, Bynum’s contributions to the win weren’t limited to his defense and rebounding.  Where he really helped the Lakers was on the offensive side of the  ball.  By establishing deep post position and displaying his great touch (and power) around the hoop, Bynum scored 18 points by making 8 of his 12 field goals.  Through the power of Synergy, I went back and reviewed all 12 of his shot attempts and have made notes on each one.  Below is what I saw:

Shot #1: Kobe brings the ball up the left sideline and passes to Gasol on the wing and proceeds to cut to the sideline as Bynum sets up in the hub to form the sideline Triangle.  Rather than pass to Kobe in the short corner or Bynum in the hub, Pau reverses the ball to Fisher at the top of the key.  With Artest at the elbow, Fisher dribbles right to use Ron as a screener and then passes to Ron who popped to the top of the key to maintain spacing.  Right when Ron makes his catch, Bynum (who was still on the left block) muscles his way into the middle of the paint and Ron hits him with a direct post entry 5 feet in front of the hoop.  Bynum turns over his right shoulder and shoots a simple jumpshot that hits the heel of the rim but drops in because of the soft touch he had on the shot.

Shot #2:  As Kobe brings the ball up the left sideline, Bynum trails the play but runs up the right wing ultimately setting up on the weak side along the right lane line at the lower block.  Kobe, rather than passing to the sideline as is the norm, reverses the ball to Fisher who is the top guard in the two man front of the Triangle.  Right when Fisher receives the pass, Bynum again uses his superior size and strength to duck into the paint right in front of the rim and gets a direct line post entry from Fish.  This time turning over his left shoulder, Bynum shoots a jump hook from 4 feet out that hits the heel and bounces out long.  A great look that just didn’t fall.

Shot #3:  The Lakers are in semi-transition and Kobe is jogging the ball up court.  Bynum is running to Kobe’s left and sets up at the top of the key to set a screen for Kobe to drive to that side.  Instead, Kobe goes away from the screen, jumpstops at the FT line, and then steps through to his left to shoot a jumper.  While this is going on, Bynum rolled to the hoop, bringing Okafor with him down the lane.  When Kobe elevates, Okafor leaves Bynum to contest the shot and Kobe executes a nice drop pass to Drew who then elevates at the charge circle and throws down a dunk.  Semi-transition plays like this have been a staple of how Bynum has gotten his baskets over the years as his size and ability to dive, make the catch, and finish blend naturally with the gifted passers the Lakers possess.

Shot #4: The Lakers are again in semi-transition and Kobe has the ball coming up the middle of the  floor with Artest on the left wing and Bynum trailing slightly on the right side.  Kobe quickly looks to attack by driving hard and spinning into a back down move at the FT line.  As he elevates to shoot his jumper, Bynum inches closer to the right lane line for rebounding position, but Kobe instead passes to Artest in the left corner because his man dug down to contest Kobe’s shot.  After receiving the pass, Ron drives hard baseline and forces Okafor to leave Drew to help.  Artest flips up a lob that Bynum snares easily and after coming down quickly elevates again for a simple lay in.  This was a relatively easy play but my one take away was how big a target Bynum is when making this type of pass.  Ron literally just had to throw the ball any where above Okafor’s hands and Andrew would have made the catch and finish.

Shot #5 & #6: Lakers run their classic sideline Triangle initiation with Fisher bringing the ball up the right side.  He passes to Artest at the right wing and then proceeds to cut to the strong side corner.  Bynum fills the post on that side to form the Triangle.  Bynum works his way up the lane line to make himself available for a pass from Ron, but the defender stays on his top shoulder to deny entry.  Ron then passes to Fisher in the corner who then makes  a quick pass into Bynum who has Mbenga sealed due to the fact that DJ is trying to recover from playing on the top side when Ron just had the ball. Bynum makes the catch and quickly shoots a righty jump hook that misses to the left.  However, Bynum immediately recognizes that his shot is off, quickly moves to the ball to recover the offensive rebound, and then shoots a quick fading shot from a few feet away right in front of the basket.  The Hornets announcer says “He’s just too big.”

Shot #7:  Kobe again brings the ball up on the left side and Bynum is running ahead down the middle of the court.  ‘Drew decides to stop and set up shop at the elbow looking to set up the hand off sequence of the Triangle.  Recognizing that his defender is playing him top side, Bynum spins away looking for the lob but Kobe doesn’t hit him right away.  Instead Kobe looks to drive, but notices that Bynum’s man never rolled to the hoop to recover but rather stayed near the elbow to help on penetration.  Kobe then passes to a wide open Drew for an easy dunk.  It really doesn’t get much easier than that.  (On a side note and in full disclosure, this was one of the first possessions of the 3rd quarter and David West was guarding ‘Drew.  West was testing his sore ankle and his lack of recovery could have easily been because he couldn’t move as well on his bum wheel.)

Shot #8: Kobe brings the ball up the middle of the floor with Fisher to his left and Bynum alone the baseline at the left block.  Kobe calls for Pau (who is at the right elbow) to set a screen for him to go to his right hand.  Kobe uses the screen, drives hard to his right hand, elevates and passes to Fisher who is still cross court on the left wing.  After making the catch, Fisher immediately touch passes to Bynum who had his defender on his back due to the fact that Kobe was attacking on the opposite side of the floor just a second before.  Bynum makes the catch, turns over his right shoulder to the baseline, and sinks a left handed jump hook.  “Wow he can even use the left hand…” says the Hornets announcer, who at this point sounds a bit discouraged by the combination of size and skill that ‘Drew is flashing.

Shot #9:  The Lakers run a classic Triangle set.  Fisher brings the ball up the left side, bypasses Shannon who’s in the two guard front to hit Artest who’s on the right wing and then proceeds to cut to the ball side corner.  Because the ball is essentially skipped from strong to weak side, the post is empty and creates what’s called “Center opposite” as the post needs to be filled by one of the players that was on the original strong side.  Pau fills the post to create the Triangle with Ron and Fisher.  Ron passes to the corner to Fish and then cuts top side through the lane.  Gasol then steps out to set a screen for Fish who uses it to go to the middle.  Off the screen Fisher hits Shannon Brown who is still at the top of the key in his original position in the two guard front.  Right when Shannon make his catch, Bynum (who is still on the left low block from the original set up as Pau filled the post) posts up.  With Ron finishing his cut on the left sideline and Brown bringing the ball over to that side, the Lakers have now formed the Triangle again after the ball has reversed.  Brown hits Bynum in the post and Drew turns over his right shoulder to attempt a baby lefty hook off the glass.  The shot misses long, but to this point this was one of the more drawn out sets that the Lakers ran and it was executed wonderfully.  By utilizing both sides of the floor and using both Pau and Bynum as post threats in the possession, the Lakers showed how easily they can involve their bigs without ever having to force the action in either one’s direction.

Shot #10: Lakers again run a Center opposite action this time with Odom (who had subbed in for Pau) filling the post.  As Odom flashes to the strong side he receives the pass and proceeds to make his move to score.  However, Bynum’s man (who was on the opposite block guarding Drew) came over to help and it’s created a passing angle for LO to drop the ball off to Bynum.  He does just that and after finally gathering the ball in traffic, Bynum makes a little righty hook form inside 4 feet.  There’s few things I love more than big to big passing for easy buckets.

Shot #11: Steve Blake brings the ball up the left side of the court ahead of the rest of the team.  As he’s known to do, he slows up and lets the rest of his guys get set.  Rather than a wing coming to fill the ball side corner, everyone stays to the right side as Bynum runs down the left lane line to set up at the mid post.  Blake hits ‘Drew with a pass and cuts through to clear the side and create an isolation for Bynum against former teammate DJ Mbenga.  After taking a couple of dribbles and not gaining any ground, Bynum passes out to the perimeter and reposts to try and get better position.  The pass goes back inside for ‘Drew to go at DJ again.  This time after taking a couple of dribbles, Bynum dips his left shoulder like a pass rusher turning the corner, takes two big steps, and tries to ram the ball on a contesting Mbenga’s head.  DJ bothers the dunk attempt enough that it hits back iron and bounces away.  This may have been a miss, but man was it nice to see ‘Drew attack the hoop like that.

Shot #12: After some passing around the perimeter, the Lakers finally get set up in the Triangle on the right side with Kobe in the corner, Blake on the wing, and Bynum in the hub.  After Kobe passes to Blake and clears the side (creating a two man side with Blake and Bynum), Blake calls Drew over to set a high screen.  Bynum sets the pick to for Blake to drive left and then rolls to the short wing on the right.  Blake drives to his left, passes to Shannon who’s the other top side guard in the two man front, who then whips a quick pass into Gasol who ducked into the mid post on that side of the floor.  Gasol turns and faces, drives to his right hand and then spots ‘Drew who is still on the short right wing after his P&R action with Blake.  Gasol delivers a pass to Bynum who then sinks a 12 foot jumper on the angle.  Again, great offense from the Lakers as the ball switched sides and then great big to big teamwork as Pau played set up man for Bynum’s easy face up jumpshot.

After reviewing the tape, it’s obvious that New Orleans didn’t have the size to combat ‘Drew.  Several of his baskets came on simple duck ins where his defender didn’t have the strength or length to bother entry passes.  However, the Lakers also did a lot of good things on offense to get Bynum the ball in position to score and he capitalized on his chances by making two-thirds of his attempts.  Obviously Bynum isn’t going to be that efficient every night, but his ability to score the ball and be a threat on offense is going to help the Lakers tremendously.  Maybe not as much as his defensive presence in the paint, but as a counter to the finesse games of Pau and Lamar, Bynum’s offense is going to be a welcomed sight in the Lakers’ triple post sets.

AP Photo/Sean Gardner

AP Photo/Sean Gardner

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: The two-time defending NBA champions can still be the dragon that causes lesser opponents to shrink from their fire. The San Antonio Spurs didn’t wilt from the Lakers’ determination Tuesday night in the Lakers’ third consecutive lopsided loss. So the Lakers redoubled their efforts Wednesday night and delivered utter domination of the New Orleans Hornets, 103-88. “I sensed it early on that some of our guys were a bit overwhelmed,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. The Lakers stood even taller because of Phil Jackson’s decision to move Andrew Bynum back into his usual role as the Lakers’ starting center for the first time this season.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: His season had been so strong, the numbers coming steadily night after night, that Lamar Odom wondered if he would be an All-Star for the first time in his 12-year career.?? On Wednesday, however, he continued being a vitally important player for the Lakers simply by accepting the switch from starter to sub, as he had done numerous times the last few years.?? It’s nothing new for Odom, and all he did was score 24 points, his career high as a reserve, making 10 of 15 shots in the Lakers’ 103-88 victory over New Orleans.?? Because of Andrew Bynum’s injury tendencies over the years, Odom has started 94 of the 96 games missed by the Lakers center, and it was back to the bench after Bynum started his first game of the season.??” Some people could have taken it personally,” Odom said. “It didn’t matter to me.” ??Odom was averaging 15.6 points and 9.8 rebounds on 57.4% shooting before Wednesday, enough to be an All-Star “for sure, no question about it,” Kobe Bryant said.

From Elliot Teaford, LA Daily News: Kobe Bryant walked onto the court more than two hours before the Lakers defeated the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night and shared a laugh with teammate Luke Walton before his pregame shooting routine. Later, he joked with former teammate Trevor Ariza. The pregame scenes were in sharp contrast to the seething Bryant who could barely hide his anger and disgust near the end of the Lakers’ loss one night earlier to the San Antonio Spurs, their third consecutive defeat by 15 or more points. Bryant’s frustration seemed to sweep through the Lakers during Tuesday’s loss. He drew a technical foul in the first half after jawing with George Hill of the Spurs. Bryant’s backcourt-mate Derek Fisher received a technical in the second half.

From Brett Martel, Lamar Odom responded to his first time out of the starting lineup this season by scoring 24 points, and the Los Angeles Lakers convincingly ended a three-game losing streak with a 103-88 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night. Kobe Bryant added 20 points, while Andrew Bynum, who started for Odum, scored 18 points. Pau Gasol added 11 points and 12 rebounds as the Lakers snapped out a funk in which they had lost by 15 or more points in their previous three games. Chris Paul had 20 points and Marco Belinelli scored 15 for the Hornets, who lost their second straight by double digits after falling 113-98 at Minnesota two nights earlier.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: After a San Antonio debacle featuring Kobe Bryant (by his own admission) hucking the ball too much and the ball moving too little (especially in the direction of anybody on the tall side), the Lakers got back to what works best for them: All hands on deck. The rock changing said hands at a steady rate. And the biggest hands (those belonging to the frontcourt players) were typically full. The first quarter ended with all five starters on the board and six points apiece for Kobe, surprise starter Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol. It set the tone for every Laker who played 10-plus minutes entered the scoring column, hitting at 58.6 percent against a host talented at the lockdown. Even more indicative of the balance, nobody took more than 15 shots. Patience was exercised in search of quality looks. Three-pointers were generally created from the inside-out and, in no bit of coincidence, were wet.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Exciting news, cats and kittens: 2010 will not end with a five-game Lakers losing streak. The purp and yellow pulled out of their late-December death spiral and battered the New Orleans Hornets tonight in an easy 103 to 88 triumph. The offensive attack that had grown increasingly feeble over the past few games roared back to life, and for the first time since last spring Andrew Bynum looked like Andrew Bynum. Just as a few dreadful losses were no call to write off the Lakers, one splendid game doesn’t mean they’re definitively back on track, but this was the right first step. Drew reentered the starting lineup in this one, sending Lamar Odom back to his familiar role as sixth man nonpareil. The change suited both players. Bynum regularly established deep post position against the undersized Hornet bigs and scored on a better variety of moves than he’d shown since his return from knee surgery. Baseline spins, alley-oop dunks, jump hooks in the lane: his repertoire is rounding into form. He scored 18 points on 13 shots (including free-throw possessions) and played a season-high 30 minutes.

From Michael McNamara, Hornets 24/7: After last night’s loss against San Antonio, some Hornets fans worried whether Kobe would come out with something to prove, but it wasn’t #24 who killed New Orleans tonight, it was their new 6th man- Mr. Khloe Kardashian himself. Lamar scored a game high 24 points in his first game of the season in which he came off the bench. Phil Jackson gave Andrew Bynum the start, moving Pau Gasol back to power forward, and the length of those two really bothered the Hornets on both ends of the court. The Lakers started the game pounding the ball inside on offense and pushing the Hornets out of the paint when New Orleans had the ball. In the first 15 minutes, the Lakers had 22 points in the paint and that opened up their outside shooting. Before you knew it, the Lakers were up 59-41 at the half and the game was all but over at that point.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Needless to say, we’ve been waiting for a night like this since last week (though it feels like much longer).  The Lakers played smart, focused basketball and took down the Hornets 103-88 to end their three game slide and regain some of the mojo that’s been lost of late.  This isn’t to say that the Lakers are all the way back, but this was a nice first step towards finding their stride after stumbling along in so recent many games.

When you have a dominating performance like the Lakers had, there’s usually many reasons for it and it’s tough to pinpoint one (or even two) reasons why.  And in pouring over the boxscore, this game would seem to be no different as the Lakers controlled the game statistically in many key areas.  But, for me, it’s easy to find the key to the game and what changed from recent contests: the Lakers went back to last year’s formula of big man dominance.

In a departure from what Phil and the coaches had been saying since his return, Bynum was unexpectedly placed in the starting lineup and his presence immediately paid dividends.  Big ‘Drew clogged the defensive paint, altered shots when involved in screen and rolls, and overall just provided very good activity on the defensive end.  But beyond just being big and active on D, he was effective on offense by providing the Lakers with another primary post up option.  Bynum scored 18 points on a variety of straight post ups and interior finishes after teammate penetration.  Several times he worked hard to get deep position and again showed that there’s little substitute for sheer size as he easily finished over the top of the Hornets after making catches off passes thrown at rim level.

The other benefit of Bynum’s presence was the proper slotting of the other Laker big men.  Playing a lot of PF, Gasol found his groove again on offense.  Able to more freely slide around the court and not have to consistently bang in the post, Pau found creases in the Hornets’ defense to get off a handful of good shots and earn trips to the FT line.  The big Spaniard may have only finished with 11 points, but he did it on just 5 shots from the field and looked as fresh as he has in weeks when he drove to the hoop for his rolling hook or cut from the weak side to receive a pass.

But while Bynum was an anchor with Pau complementing him wonderfully, the star of the front court was Lamar Odom.  In past years, it’s been no secret that when Odom plays well the Lakers become nearly unbeatable.  This year, with Bynum out, that became less true because LO’s contributions as a starter became more of a necessity than a luxury as the Lakers have needed him to perform to be competitive night in and night out.  Tonight, though, LO was able to slide back into his natural role of super sixth man and take over the game from a reserve role.  Odom came off the pine and didn’t miss a beat, leading the Lakers in scoring with 24 points (on only 15 shots) and sporting a +20 in plus/minus for the game.  Odom simply did everything on offense and flashed the brilliance of his all-around game as he knocked down a three, drove for easy finishes, posted up, and gobbled up offensive rebounds for put backs.  He even had the highlight of the night with a fast break play where he went behind his back, finger rolled a ball that back ironed, and then followed his own miss with a tip jam.

Not to be left out, the Lakers guards also played well.  A night after taking on the heavy lifting and firing up a lot of shots, Kobe let the offense come to him scoring a relatively easy 20 points on only 14 attempts from the field.  Several times he drew in the defense only to make a great pass that may not have been an assist, but rather the pass the set up the sequence that led to the basket.  Derek Fisher also played a very controlled game to very good results.  Fish rarely forced a play the entire night and ended the night making 4 of his 6 shots (9 points) and led the team in assists with 8 dimes.  He consistently made the right reads and often times penetrated the D with the expressed purpose of setting up a teammate.

This game wasn’t just about the individual play put forth by key players.  This was a team effort that reminded us of how good the Lakers can be when they get back to doing the little things well on both sides of the ball.  Defensively the Lakers were much more active.  The lack of outside shooting by the Hornets allowed the Laker wings to dig down on the post and better close off driving lanes by helping off their men.  When the ball did rotate back out to the perimeter, the Lakers generally closed out well and contested shots (though they were better contesting mid range jumpers than they were the long ball).  Even though Chris Paul was able to get his numbers (20 points, 7 assists), he never seemed like he was going to take over the game. I thought the Lakers did a pretty good job of making his life hard by battling him for the real estate he wanted to get to and contesting once he got there, limiting his ability to be both a scorer and distributor.  And while David West was bothered by a first half ankle sprain, the Lakers also did a good job of making him work to get his shots and making him shoot contested jumpers while limiting his post chances with the aforementioned dig downs by wings.  So from a team wide perspective, I thought the Lakers executed the defensive game plan very well, and it showed up statistically as they held the Hornets to 41.8% shooting and then cleaned up the glass, limiting the Hornets to 6 offensive rebounds on their 46 missed field goals.

Offensively, the Lakers were also much more crisp than they’ve been in long while.  The ball moved freely from one side of the court to the other.  The better ball movement meant that post ups were more easily set up as the Hornets were caught in the paint showing help on the strong side, only to have a ball reversal give the Laker’ big men easy inside position as they pinned their men.  There was no better example of this than on a play where Kobe had the ball on the right wing and after drawing the defense in while backing his man down, he skipped the ball to D-Fish on the other side of the court who then touch passed the ball to Bynum, who was 4 feet from the hoop getting rebounding position on Kobe’s original set up for a shot.  This entire sequence of the ball switching sides and Bynum getting a lay-in took all of 3-4 seconds and exemplified the greater commitment to ball and player movement that’s been lacking.  There’s a reason that the Lakers shot 58.6% from the floor even though they only made 5 of their 17 three pointers (29.4%).  They got the ball inside by being (mostly) patient, playing together, and working the offense.

This game wasn’t all positives, though.  The Lakers, at times, were pretty careless with the ball and committed 20 turnovers on the night.  Kobe alone had 7 miscues, mostly of the ball handling and offensive foul variety.  Matt Barnes had a late game ejection after he pushed a Hornet to the ground after committing a turnover of his own.  In the end though, these were relatively minor transgressions when looking at the big picture.  When you win by double digits and control the game from the opening tip to the closing whistle, it’s always a good night.  And when that type of performance comes on the heels of several consecutive stinkers, it’s even better.  I’m in no way ready to say that this game has the Lakers back to where they need to be, but it’s a great first step and that’s really all I was looking for before this game started.  Now, the work of building on this performance begins.

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Records: Lakers 21-10 (Tied for 3rd in West), Hornets 18-13 (6th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.5 (2nd in NBA), Hornets 104.5 (21st in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (11th in NBA), Hornets 102.3 (6th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Hornets: Chris Paul, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, David West, Emeka Okafor
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); Hornets: Willie Green (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in:  The bad basketball has continued and there seems to be no end in sight.  After last night’s loss, Kobe mentioned that the game snowballed once his shots stopped falling.  The rest of the team is angry at the way they’re playing but not worried that this will last indefinitely.  This type of perspective is what I’d hope the team has since they, better than most, understand what needs to be done to improve.  They know that they’ll play better but that the work to get there must get done.  They surely see it as a process.

Fans, on the other hand, are calling for blood.  The frustration from lackluster play (for what seems like a month) and a string of double digit defeats is the spoiled cherry on a rancid sundae.

Meanwhile, I’m in the middle.  I’m quite frustrated that the team is playing the way that it is.  The team isn’t utilizing it’s advantage in the post enough but when the ball does go inside the results aren’t always what we’d want or expect.  The lack of individual playmaking has bled into the overall execution of the team and the results are dry spells on offense that we’re just not accustomed to seeing.    However, through it all I have belief.  I’ve always said that judging a team while at its worst is foolish.  A team as talented and as well coached as the Lakers won’t slump this severely for an entire campaign so to say that what we see now is what we’ll see later in the year doesn’t compute to me.  The frustration lies in seeing it continue, but that’s why patience is the hardest type of perspective to maintain.  With every poorly played game or blowout loss, the memory of strong performance fades and it’s then much easier to remember the bad and harder to recall what this team actually does well.  But, I haven’t forgotten.  This team is still very good, but right now it’s playing terrible ball.

But last night I saw a fire to compete.  I saw an anger.  Now that just needs to be directed correctly.  That energy needs to be put into executing on both sides of the ball; it needs to be channelled into closing out hard, rotating to shut down the paint, to moving with and without the ball in a purposeful manner.  Once that happens, the wins will come.  Believe me, I’m waiting on it just like the rest of you.

The Hornets Coming in: The Lakers must see the Hornets and think they’re looking in the mirror.  After starting the season on a tear and winning 11 of its first 12 games, the team has now only won 7 of 19.  They’re below .500 in December (6 wins, 8 losses) and what started out looking like a promising year is now more realistically one that will end with a low playoff seeding.  A nice season in a strong Western Conference, but not what many hoped for after such an amazing start.

As usual, this team is carried by their transcendent point guard, Chris Paul.  His numbers are down a bit from two years ago (where he was rightly considered one of the best 3-4 players in the league) but he’s still amazingly efficient for a smallish guard.  His shooting percentages are still 49/46/91 (field/thee point/FT line) and in an era of stellar PG play you’d be hard pressed to find a better floor general in the league.

Where the Hornets are really struggling is in their supporting cast.  David West is still putting up good numbers (19 and 7) and Okafor is good for a near double-double a night (10 and 9) but the rest of the team is a collection of role players that are either right at or below league average.  Trevor Ariza has not been able to duplicate the numbers from his stellar run with the Lakers in 2009 and Marco Belinelli – while playing good ball – shouldn’t be a starting guard in this league.  You throw in the fact that this team traded Darren Collison and that promising 2nd year player Marcus Thornton has seen his minutes slashed and you’re now hard pressed to find the young talent that could develop into a key cog on a contender.  Hence the persistent rumors that CP3 could be on the move.

The team will compete each night because they defend the ball very well (credit new coach Monty Williams for emphasizing D as their calling card), but with an offense in the bottom third of the association and teams able to stack their D to slow down Paul, this team doesn’t get enough from other players to truly compete at a level that makes them contenders.  And I haven’t even talked about how the league had to step in and purchase the team due to the financial troubles it’s been experiencing in New Orleans.

Hornets Blogs:  For all your news and notes on the team from ‘Nawlins, visit Hornets 24/7.  At The Hive also does a very good job covering this team.

Keys to game: The desperate fan side of me wants to say “just do enough to actually win” and leave it at that.  I mean, with the way the Lakers have been playing and the fact that this is the 2nd night of a back to back, I’ll take a win any way that it can come.   Also, the fact is that there are so many non opponent specific things the Lakers need to do better to actually get a W, that focusing too much on the opponent isn’t even useful.

But, a couple of Hornets notes are necessary.  Obviously slowing down the P&R attack of the Hornets will be the biggest defensive key.  Paul loves to run the high P&R with West and Okafor and probe the defense coming off the pick to find the best shot for his team.  When his defender goes under the screen he’ll happily take the uncontested jumper and when defenders trail him he’ll get into the paint to either shoot a floater or draw the defense in so he can hit an open teammate.  Tonight, I’d like for the Lakers to get the ball out of Paul’s hands by hedging hard and force him to give up the ball early.  At that point the Lakers can rotate to the next Hornet and then hopefully deny Paul the ball so he can’t reset the offense.  This will be easier said than done as Paul’s ability to keep his dribble rivals Steve Nash’s, but I think it’s necessary to try and limit the Hornets’ offensive success.

David West is the other key to the Hornets offense so slowing him is priority number 2.  West loves to do his work at the elbow and mid post where he can turn and face to shoot his solid mid range jumper.  The Lakers need to crowd him when he’s in his sweet spots and then make him a driver where he has to finish over the top of a rotating big man.  Odom has had mixed results against West in the past but in this game he’ll need to use his quickness and length to bother his jumper and slide him towards the help.

Offensively the Lakers need to go inside.  I understand that Gasol has been struggling but the Hornets don’t have a lot of height inside and Pau should be able to get off his hooks and turnaround jumpers without too much trouble.  Okafor is a very good shot blocker, but most of his success is as a weak side rotator and not on the ball.  If Pau can establish the post at 12 feet and in, he should be able to maneuver into position where he can shoot his lefty hook or drive middle where he can get off his jumper.

I’d also like to see a bit more of Bynum tonight and allow him to get more touches.  Last night he went 4-4 from the field and had his touch back around the hoop.  His footwork looked solid and he worked with a strong, wide base on most of his hook shots.  Big ‘Drew is a guy that can simply over power any big man that the Hornets throw up against him, so more post up chances for him would be a good thing tonight.

All that said, as I mentioned earlier, tonight is just about playing better.  If the Lakers clean up their own house, they’ll be in position to win.  In recent games we’ve seen lazy passes and players making predetermined reads with the ball rather than reacting to what the defense is doing.  I’d love to see controlled aggression rather than the frenzied activity we saw last night.  If the Lakers can play with urgency while not pressing I think we’ll see the result we all want tonight.  Now, lets get that win.

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

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Kobe Bryant overdid it. Everyone could see it. Andrew Bynum lamented it with postgame suggestions to “stay inside the system.” Lamar Odom avoided it by answering several questions by flipping his hands over to show palms up. Phil Jackson said it flat-out, noting that after Bryant fired off his early shots, “Then it was time to slow it down a bit and get everybody involved.” Jackson also made light of it, smiling about Bryant’s stretch of 13 consecutive misses and saying: “If I was playing, I probably wouldn’t pass him the ball the next time.” As the All-Star who wasn’t getting the touches and shots that Bryant was in a game he – same as Bryant – had pointed to as a truly big game for the Lakers, Gasol wasn’t in position to laugh about it as easily.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant arrived at At&T Center Tuesday for early shooting, hoping that would set the example for dogged preparation and trickle into the game against San Antonio. He publicly undressed his teammates after an embarrassing Christmas Day loss to Miami and reiterated his sentiments in a more subdued manner during the team’s shootaround, hoping his demanding comments would light a fuse into his team. And he continued shooting throughout the contest against the Spurs, believing his scoring mentality would eventually lift the Lakers out of their current malaise. Instead, the Lakers’ 97-82 loss Tuesday to the San Antonio Spurs revealed the same problems.  The immediate worries: the Lakers (21-10) are trailing the Spurs (26-5) by six games for first place in the Western Conference standings. The Lakers suffered their third consecutive loss for the second time this season. And they have experienced these defeats by an average of 16 points, the first time since March 2007 that the Lakers have lost three consecutive games by double-digit margins.

From Johnny Ludden, Yahoo! Sports: Kobe Bryant pouted and cursed. He picked up a string of technicals, even wasting an ejection in one of these embarrassments just to make his bleeping point. He froze out reporters for a few days, then celebrated Christmas by calling out his teammates after LeBron James had run over them. These Los Angeles Lakers were too complacent, he said. They didn’t work hard enough. He vowed to kick them in practice. Toughen them until they’d awoken from their winter slumber. After the Lakers’ malaise had stretched some 1,200 miles to the southeast and into a third game, Bryant found a new target for his ire. The San Antonio Spurs had flattened the champs, just like the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat had before them, and on this night Bryant pointed blame where blame was most deserved.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Right about now, Phil Jackson might be wishing he’d retired last summer when he had the chance. His Lakers have fallen completely apart, a fact that became apparent on Christmas Day and blindingly obvious tonight in an 82 to 97 walloping at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. The purp and yellow have not only lost three straight games but have failed to be competitive in any of them. Since 2008 the Lakers have been the bully of the NBA schoolyard. Now that bully has been knocked to the ground, and everyone’s getting their punches in while they can. If Phil can somehow pull this situation back together and win another title – hey, a girl can dream – he’ll have earned every last dime of his prodigious salary.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: The Lakers lost going away, despite quiet nights from both Manu Ginobili (nine points), and Tim Duncan (one field goal). Why? They shot 35 percent as a team, had critical turnovers, and couldn’t control guys like DeJuan Blair (17 points, 15 boards). Still, San Antonio shot a manageable 42.5 percent, and left the door open. The Lakers just kicked the door jamb — repeatedly — as they tried to go through. As it stands, the Lakers, facing another tough game Wednesday in New Orleans, will either need to play dramatically better basketball over their final 50 games in the face of a brutal schedule, or hope San Antonio comes back to the pack. Credit the Spurs — they played a strong team game and don’t look the slightest bit ready to backslide. The Lakers will improve as the season goes along (it’ll take some time, though, because what ails them is far more than simple boredom), but the context of this season has very likely shifted for good.

From Andrew McNeill, 48MOH: San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich never said anything to give the belief that this was the team’s most important game thus far this season. No, we all did that for him. But he sure did wear the look of a man who knew this was a big game. “Coach Pop came in yesterday at practice and set the tone,” Spurs guard Gary Neal said after the game. “He was real to the point and direct on what he expected us to do, especially on the defensive end.” Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News called it “Game Face Pop.” And from top to bottom on Tuesday night, the Spurs reflected the attitude of their coach. San Antonio played quite possibly their best defensive game of the season in holding the Lakers to 35.4% shooting in a 97-82 win over the two-time defending champs.

From Tim Griffin, San Antonio Express News: The play of the night in San Antonio’s convincing victory over the Lakers came from perhaps their unlikeliest source of mayhem. George Hill is known by his teammates as one of the most unassuming players on the team. So it was more than a little out of character when he got into Kobe Bryant’s face and jawed with him with 4:49 left in the second quarter. “I just wanted him to know that you might be an NBA All-Star and the MVP, but I won’t back down from anybody,” Hill said. The Lakers took the lead on the ensuing possession, but Hill’s willingness to stand up to the league’s foremost scorer and trash talker got a point across to his teammates. They responded with a big spurt to start the third quarter and cruised from there to a convincing 97-82 victory over the two-time defending NBA champs.

From Charley Rosen, NBA Fanhouse: OK, the Lakers claimed that the piece of coal that the Heat presented them with on Christmas Day was due to their lack of focus and their failure to approach the game with an appropriate sense of urgency. And after being publicly berated by both Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, as well as a feisty practice session, the Lakers collectively swore that their championship chops were fully restored. How then to explain another lopsided loss, this one in San Antonio? Here’s how: Kobe set out to try to win the game single-handedly. He didn’t pass the ball until 4:15 of the first quarter — and only after taking seven shots and committing four turnovers. Indeed, in the entire first half, Kobe only threw two passes.

From Tom Ziller, SB Nation: Whether Kobe Bryant has been a great NBA player for the last 14 seasons has never been in question; he’s among history’s greatest scorers, and is quite possibly the most skilled offensive player ever. But if there’s a nagging scab on Kobe’s illustrious career, through five (and counting) championships and an MVP and an Olympic gold medal, it’s that he’s considered to be a selfish player. When the Spurs blew out the Lakers on Tuesday night, that reputation was thrust back on to center stage. Kobe took 27 field goal attempts in the game. Pau Gasol, the team’s incredibly gifted pivot, took all of nine, despite

From Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Truehoop: In last night’s Spurs-Lakers game, Kobe Bryant got the better of Kobe Bryant again. When his team desperately needed him, he gave them a bit too much of him. It happens. Credit to the San Antonio defense, offense, credit to DeJuan Blair’s ebullient flair. But, it’s impossible to watch a live game and absorb all the complexities of ten jerseys, tugging TV pixels in different directions. Frankly, I just funneled an attention span to the Kobe show. Bryant started off shaky, out of rhythm. All seemed lost when he sauntered in with nine minutes left, Lakers down by double digits. In a rebuke to offensive sets, Kobe flooded the hoop. A deep contested two, a contested three, another three. Suddenly, the Lakers were tilting the see-saw. Suddenly, frightened announcers were sputtering: “He will score every time he gets the ball! Every time!”

AP Photo/Eric Gay

AP Photo/Eric Gay

On Monday, in the wake of the loss to the Heat, I wrote the following:

Besides changing the mental approach of the team, the Lakers also need to shore up their on court play and improve their execution on both sides of the ball in order to truly improve.  Greater focus will only go so far if that mental energy is still expended on doing things incorrectly.

Tonight proved to be a perfect example of the point I was trying to make when I wrote that.  Against the Spurs the Lakers came out with more energy and had a strong fighting spirit.  However, much of that energy was misguided as the team worked itself into a such frenzy that and it resulted in everyone pressing to do the right thing (especially on offense) but rarely actually accomplishing it.

The king of this was Kobe.  #24 started out the game aggressive (just as I wanted him to be) and he converted on 4 of his first 5 baskets.  He looked sharp as his jumper was falling and he was able to get to good spots on the floor to work in his comfort zone.  But that early success led to him completely abandoning the offense and going off on his own to try and score the ball and with little success to show for it the rest of the night.  Mr. Bean finished the night with 21 points on 27 shots.  To pile onto his inefficiency he finished with 5 turnovers to only 1 assist.  In a bizarro NBA, that kind of backwards stat line is great but against the team with the league’s best record, not so much.

Kobe wasn’t alone in playing erratic though.  Derek Fisher had more fouls (4) than points (2) and even earned a technical foul as he chased down Richard Jefferson after being knocked off the ball when trying to get a rebound on a fast break.  To my eyes, the play was clean as Fish simply got caught up in the wash as RJ aggressively went for the ball to get a put back.  Derek, though, took offense to getting put on the ground and provided another example of the Lakers misdirecting their energy.  Rather than Fisher using his anger as motivation to play harder, he ran halfway down the court to try and get in the face of the opposition and intimidate his way to success.  I must say that while I liked the tenacity, it should have been used to play better defense or to set better screens in the Lakers floundering half court sets.

Adding to the Lakers’ backcourt’s misfortune was the play of Shannon Brown and Steve Blake.  Combined they shot 2-16 from the floor and never got in the flow of the Lakers sets.  Blame Kobe’s gunning or the overall lack of cohesion shown on that side of the ball all night, but both couldn’t hit shots while continuing to just fire away (especially Shannon).  Countless times Brown declined post passes in order to take a jumper or drive the ball into traffic and it didn’t end well a single time (his lone make came on a kick out from the post).

The Lakers’ starting front court wasn’t any better as Gasol and Odom combined for 18 points on 17 shots with neither grabbing double digit rebounds in a combined 71 minutes of game action.  Both big men looked slow to the ball on offense (Pau consistently got beat to post entry passes all night) and couldn’t ever seem to fully take advantage of the chances they had when they did have the ball with a good opportunity to do something positive.

Meanwhile, the Spurs just continued to prove why they’re one of the best teams in the league.  On a night where Duncan and Ginobili were pedestrian, Tony Parker and DeJuan Blair both had huge nights exploiting the Lakers tentative interior defense.  Parker used his lightning quickness to get out in the open court and finish at the rim in transition or masterfully used screens in the half court to either get off uncontested jumpers or penetrate the lane.  Tony finished with a game high 23 points and easily could have had more had this game been closer and he played more than the 34 minutes he got on the night.  Then there was Blair who simply beasted the Lakers in the paint both scoring and rebounding the ball.  The undersized Spur tallied 17 points and 15 rebounds (including 6 offensive) on the night and consistently outworked the Lakers by diving hard to the rim at every opportunity. 

Really, the Lakers were simply outclassed.  Again.  Even with the positives of Bynum playing well (4-4 FG, 10 points, 7 rebounds), Barnes continuing to show his value, Artest beginning to break out of his offensive funk (4-9 FG, 10 points, solid drives, decisiveness), and the Lakers putting together one of their better quarters by erasing a 9 point deficit in the 2nd frame to take a halftime lead, the negatives of their misdirected energy and focus doomed them tonight.  While I do believe this game can be used as a stepping stone of sorts, I’m not convinced that this team has yet figured out a way to fully incorporate all their players while committing to the offensive and defensive schemes in a way that will create success.  Tomorrow they get to try and prove that they can properly channel their frustration and anger into positive play but as even the most optimistic fan, I’ll have to see it first before I predict that it will actually happen.  As I’ve said after recent games, this team is a long way from being the unit it needs to be to truly compete.  So while I still have patience, it’s slowly deteriorating as the frustration builds.