Archives For December 2010

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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.

Around the World (Wide Web)

Phillip Barnett —  December 29, 2010
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.

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Records: Lakers 21-9 (3rd in West), Spurs 26-4 (1st in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.3 (2nd in NBA), Spurs 112.9 (1st in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (11th in NBA), Spurs 104.3 (9th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Spurs: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, DeJaun Blair, Tim Duncan
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); Spurs: James Anderson (out)

The Lakers Coming in:  We’ve discussed the state of the Lakers at length in the last couple of days and needless to say it’s not a pretty picture.  Spotty execution on both sides of the ball combined with inconsistent focus and energy has led to suspect play and poor results.  This team has had two blowout losses at Staples, so what the Lakers couldn’t do at home, they now look to do on the road, traveling to San Antonio tonight to face their 2nd top level team in the last three days.

At this point, there’s no predicting what type of performance the Lakers are going to put forward in this game.  For weeks now, Phil Jackson has been pointing to this game (as well as the Hornets game tomorrow) as one that is important to his team.  The Spurs represent a potential playoff opponent and currently sit above the Lakers in the standings.  With those factors being the case, you’d hope that the Lakers have their best effort ready for a conference foe that they have extensive history against.  But after talking a good game leading up to the Heat match up and the result being altogether forgettable (at least I’m trying to forget it), there really is no telling what the Lakers will offer up tonight.

The Spurs Coming in: The Spurs boast the league’s best record and it’s not an accident.  They combine discipline and flexibility to get the most out of their players and do so consistently.  Greg Popovich has once again shown that by coaching his players and developing them in a manner that both plays to their strengths and fit into his schemes, he can build a contender even when many were beginning to count this group out.

However, the way that they’re getting the job done is inverted from their traditional mode of success.  Rather than being a suffocating defensive team that scores enough points to get wins, the Spurs now possess the NBA’s most efficient offense with a defense that can get the stops it needs.  And rather than relying on Tim Duncan to anchor their sets, they’re relying more than ever on the fantastic guard play of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.  Both Tony and Manu have strung together great years and it’s because Coach Pop has loosened the reigns and given them the green light to attack at will without having to slow down the tempo to accommodate an aging Duncan.

Don’t get me wrong, Duncan is still a force and his ability to get needed baskets from the low post against all types of defense a major factor to this teams’ success.  But more than ever this team is blending the unique skills of their guards with the methodical precision of their big man.  This isn’t the cleanest comparison, but this team has sort of moved into the phase that the Showtime Lakers did when Magic became the focal point of the team with an aged Kareem taking a backseat to the dynamic young play maker.  The team is running  more, going to P&R heavy sets in the half court even more often, and using more wing isolations, but still incorporating Timmy as a post threat and initiator to keep him involved.  And as this shift has taken another step forward this year, the Spurs are again a contender.  It seems the more things change the more they stay the same.

Spurs Blogs:  As we highlighted this morning, 48 Minutes of Hell is a fantastic Spurs site that puts out top notch material every day. Give them a read and get smarter about the Spurs.

Keys to the Game:  Despite the contrast leveled in the previous sections of this preview, this is a very winnable game for the Lakers.  If there’s one franchise that the Lakers have experience playing, have a great respect for, and understand what it takes to beat, it’s the Spurs.  You combine that with San Antonio coming off it’s worst performance of the year and the Lakers looking to redeem themselves from their recent stinker performances, and the ingredients for a great game from the Lakers are in place.

To get it done, though, the Lakers need to get back to the execution that it exhibited earlier in the season.

Offensively, the Lakers need to attack the Spurs weaknesses with off ball movement to occupy defenders while attacking quickly and decisively with the ball.  This is a game where Kobe can really impact the game by coming out with an aggressive mentality to score the ball.  He’s traditionally had great success against the Spurs because they really don’t have that top notch defender that can give him fits (ala Nic Batum or Sefalosha) and because of his familiarity with the Spurs’ defensive schemes, Kobe is often able to get to his spots on the floor to get off shots he’s comfortable taking.  So, tonight would be a good night for aggressive Kobe to make an appearance to really set the tone in a road game.

But in the background his teammates must also understand their roles within the sets by setting good screens and cutting hard off the ball to put themselves in position to receive the ball and score for themselves when Kobe picks them out.  By cutting and screening hard, the other players will not only occupy defenders and limit their ability to help, but they’ll open themselves up when the Spurs do commit any extra defenders to help on Kobe.  Ultimately, I hope to see Kobe attack from both the post and from the short wing with mid range jumpers and quick drives before the defense can help on him and then pick out his mates when the Spurs send extra defenders his way.

As for the Lakers big men, I hope to see them be more active off the ball in order to get going.  In recent games, most of Lamar and Pau’s games have revolved around them creating for themselves either off the dribble or in isolations from the mid and low post.  Tonight, I’d like to see them use the motions of the offense better and more consistently to get the ball on the move or in space where they can be quick to take shots in the rhythm of the Triangle.  I’d  also like to see more of the Lakers hand-off sequences between Pau and Lamar where Gasol has the ball at the elbow and Odom comes off his shoulder for an attack move to his strong hand.  The Spurs’ lack of front court quickness should enable this set to be successful and really get both LO and Pau going as any over compensation on this play will mean that Pau too can get some easy shots at the rim by faking the handoff and pivoting inside for a quick drive.  Tonight really is a night where Pau can get going.  Even though Timmy is one of the all time great defenders, Pau has quickness advantages and should be able to get his shots if he’s active moving off the ball decisive when he makes the catch.

Defensively, the Lakers two biggest weaknesses will be tested as the Spurs are sure to try and push the ball at every occasion (especially Parker) and they’ll also run multiple P&R’s to try and penetrate the interior of the Lakers D.  While it will be easier said than done, the Lakers will have effectively get back in transition and build a wall against Parker’s one man fast breaks.  Parker loves to push the ball even when he doesn’t have a man advantage and force his way to the rim so he can show off his expert ability to finish at the cup.

When defending the P&R, the Lakers will need to decide what they’re comfortable giving up and then execute their scheme consistently without losing faith.  I’m hoping the Lakers make both Parker and Ginobili jumpshooters by going under screens and making them consistently make 18-20 footers to get their points.  Both players are just too dangerous when they’re able turn the corner and get into paint as Parker is deadly with his floater and Ginobili is one of the craftiest finishers in the league.  So even if these guys start to knock down jumpers, I’d rather start to make adjustments to contest those shots with big men hedging out while still having guards go under screens rather than give up the edge to two guys that finish so well in the paint.

In the end, though, both of these teams are familiar enough with each other’s schemes that this game will likely come down to a star (or two) from either team stepping up to seize control.  Whether it’s Kobe, Gasol, and/or Odom or the Spurs big three of Duncan, Parker, or Ginobili, this game could easily turn because one or more of these guys makes the game his own.  So, while role players like the improved Richard Jefferson or Ron Artest may have a good game in support of one of the stars, I do have a feeling that tonight will come down to one of the aforementioned difference makers.

Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time out west on KCAL and on NBA TV.  Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

Around the World (Wide Web)

Phillip Barnett —  December 28, 2010
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

The guys over at 48 Minutes of Hell have a lot of Spurs/Lakers content up today, including their 4-Down Podcast where Andrew McNeill and I talk about tonight’s Lakers/Spurs matchup.

Also from 48MOH:

From Scott Sereday, 48MOH: The staple of any Phil Jackson team has long been the triangle offense. The triangle offense relies on creating space and options for skilled scorers to operate. This set produces opportunities to read and pick apart a defense, resulting in many mismatches and easy scores. This video describes the current version of the Lakers triangle offense. The Lakers can produce offense efficiently in a variety of ways. Even without Andrew Bynum, the Lakers are scoring 20.5 PPG on possessions derived from the post, tops in the league according to figures provided by Synergy Sports. The Lakers also score 10.0 PPG on possessions beginning with Kobe Bryant in isolation sets. No other individual player is responsible for more such scores. In addition, the abilities of Bryant and Pau Gasol have contributed to many easy scores for others. The Lakers score 14.6 PPG from cuts, second behind only the Magic. (A couple of these scores started as isolation or post possessions.)

From Timothy Varner, 48MOH: Varner: Very simply, what’s up with the Lakers? Are they on cruise control or is something genuinely amiss? Kamenetzky: Do I have to choose? Certainly complacency was the theme following Saturday’s embarrassing loss to the Heat. Kobe Bryant took the opportunity to take his teammates to the woodshed, saying they know how good they can be… which is the problem. Odom said the team has a problem with cockiness. To what degree their problems can be blamed on boredom is an open question. The complacency discussion to me is less about trying while on the floor- I think most nights they, at the very least, think they’re playing hard- but problems paying attention to detail. Maintaining the mental edge to make the extra pass, cut, and rotation. That sort of thing. Certainly giving a damn wouldn’t hurt, but there are other things going on.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: It’s at least a good sign the team’s taking steps to heal the wounds left from its 96-80 loss Christmas Day to the Miami Heat. But it’s unclear if a competitive practice consisting of the reserves beating the starters, Ron Artest getting a cut under his right eye and Kobe Bryant playing aggressively will make any difference Tuesday when the Lakers play at San Antonio. The Lakers had reported a solid practice two days after their double-digit loss to Milwaukee because of the two-hour length and the fact everyone practiced together. But that meant very little come Christmas Day. It remains unclear whether a simple practice and a agitated Bryant will simply cause the Lakers (21-9) to perform a complete 180-degree turn against the San Antonio Spurs (26-4).

From Chris Tomasson, NBA Fanhouse: Other than with Shaquille O’Neal, Phil Jackson hasn’t had greatness in the pivot during his coaching career. He did still win three titles with former star Bill Cartwright at center and three with never-was star Luc Longley manning the middle. So Andrew Bynum could be regarded as the second-best center Jackson has coached ever. The only problem is the Lakers’ coach can’t get him on the floor much. So pardon Jackson’s frustration regarding Bynum, who has been slow to return to form this season while coming off yet another knee injury. Jackson knows what kind of potential he has in Bynum, who is just 23 but has shown some impressive flashes in his six-year career.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Never let it be said Kobe Bryant doesn’t have any pull around the Lakers’ organization. After Saturday’s loss to the Heat, The Mamba promised a Monday practice full of butt whuppings. Fire and brimstone. A “wrath of God” kinda vibe. Whatever it would take to shake the Lakers into a sense of urgency. Well, as I reported earlier today, today’s session in El Segundo was a “feisty” affair, according to Phil Jackson (who, by the way, found nothing unusual in Bryant’s practice demeanor beyond some aggressiveness and his literal participation). The mood was competitive and a scrimmage was won by the reserves, which Jackson always gets a kick out of.

From The Los Angeles Lakers have assigned forward Devin Ebanks to the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Development League, it was announced today by General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Ebanks, who was selected by the Lakers with the 43rd pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, has appeared in 12 games for the Lakers this season, averaging 2.9 points and 1.5 rebounds in 6.4 minutes. The 6’9” rookie will be available to play for the Jam tomorrow night in their game vs. the New Mexico Thunderbirds.

From Jevon O, Silver Screen and Roll: To put it simply, I do not think Ron Artest’s defense on Lebron James was terrible.  While I support the notion that Lebron James played a great individual game, played great team basketball, and helped his team to victory; I cannot support the assertion that the defense played by Ron Artest on Lebron James was terrible. Thinking back to yonder days of yore, I remember an article posted here many moons ago where it was discussed that Milwaukee scored a lot of points against a Laker defense that, at first glance, appeared terrible.  But after a rewatch, CA Clark discovered the Milwaukee Bucks took shots the Lakers would want them to take.  Therefore, it was not bad defense,  Milwaukee was hitting the shots, tough shots, that they were being given.  The coaching staff was pleased with the shots taken, and the Milwaukee Bucks played good basketball.  Eventually, things usually even out and the Lakers win (enter biased fan logic).