Archives For December 2010

I’m not going to lie.  Christmas is my favorite holiday.  I get that extra time with my family and the great food of Thanksgiving plus gifts like it’s my birthday.  I love walking into my parent’s house and seeing the done up tree and smelling fresh cookies that were just baked.  If there’s a better time to relax with everything I’d ever want at my fingertips, I’ve yet to find it.

But where things start to get complex for me is in what’s now become another Christmas tradition: the Lakers playing a marquee game.

You see, I love watching the Lakers play and particularly enjoy the big games.  Every time the Lakers play an important contest, I get that rush of adrenaline and an anxiousness comes over me that makes the viewing experience that much more meaningful.  So, over the years, these games on December 25th are ones that I look forward to.  I want to see the big match up; the game against another top level team and this game always provides that.  Whether it was last year’s game vs. the Cavs or the year before where the Lakers took on the Celtics, the Christmas day game is one that has me excited like few others in the regular season.  While the results matter as much (or little) as any other single game (it’s just 1 of 82 right?), this game always feels bigger than that, so it’s natural to put a bit more on it.  The fact that the stakes get raised gives it a sense of a playoff game in December and that feeling of importance is like another gift to unwrap in my living room with my family.  I really do love it.

Except when I don’t.

Back in August, after the schedule came out, I took a look at the holiday games that the Lakers would play and wrote the following when looking at the Christmas day game:

The Lakers play poorly on Christmas. I’ve had plenty of recent Christmases at least partially spoiled by a Lakers loss. Look at last year’s match up with Cleveland. Or the three straight years the Lakers lost to Miami on Christmas (’04-’06). Really, when looking at the past 10 seasons, the Lakers have only won 3 games on December 25th and at one point lost 6 of 7 (and 5 in a row). And it’s not like this lack of success can be blamed on being on the road as the Lakers have played 8 of those 10 games at home. (Although, if you want my theory, I actually think being at home hinders you in a Christmas day game as you’ve got all of your family commitments and the good times of the holiday broken up by a basketball game. When you’re on the road, I would think it’s easier to focus on the game itself without all the other commitments swirling around you. But I digress.)  And maybe the Lakers weren’t the most talented team in that stretch (especially in the middle of the decade), but considering the Lakers have won 5 championsips in the last 10 seasons but have only won 3 games on this particular holiday…let’s just say I’m prepared for any result.

So you can understand why, despite my love of this specific game, that I’ve had too many bad experiences with it to really enjoy it.  When you get excited to watch your team play only to watch them fall short multiple times, it really takes the fun out of the day.  And when that day is one where everything else is exactly the way I want it to be, suffering through a downer like a Lakers’ loss can be difficult.  Sure there’s family there to take your mind off it and I can always walk back to the kitchen to grab another snickerdoodle or fix another plate of food, but after a loss I usually find myself being shaken from a daze as I’ve slipped into my thoughts about what went wrong.  That’s no way to spend my Christmas afternoon and it’s happened more times than not in the past decade.

But like a drug that I can’t get enough of, I’m back for more this year.  The Heat and their super-trio are visiting LA and I’m once again giddy with excitement.  I can’t wait to see how the match ups unfold.  Can the Heat’s interior D slow Bynum, Gasol, and Odom?  Can Arest, Kobe, and Barnes slow Lebron and Wade?  What will Phil say to the sideline reporter when he gets interviewed at the end of the 1st quarter? (Whatever it its, you know it will be good.)  And then, of course, who will come out on top?

The anticipation is ramping up now with only a couple of days left and that love of the moment is now back in me.  Except, thinking about those ghosts of Christmas’ past has me wondering if I’ll spend another afternoon upset and deep in thought about a late close out or fumbled defensive rebound.  Again, it’s complex.  Here’s hoping this year provides more of what we saw in the video below.  I’d definitely love that and it would surely make my Christmas even more enjoyabo.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

From Mitch Lawrence, Fox Sports: A Lakers-Heat showdown in Tinseltown might be just what all NBA fans want for Christmas, but here’s what we have to say about a Lakers-Heat Finals for this June: Bah! Humbug! Call me Scrooge, but just because the league’s two marquee teams are playing on Saturday doesn’t mean that Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and the two-time defending champs will automatically be going up against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. It’s not just me, either. There are a number of pro basketball experts who can see other teams representing the East and West in another six months when the Finals are played.

From Dexter Fishmore, SBNation: chadenfreude travels quickly in the NBA. It was less than a month ago that we were all pointing and laughing at the Miami Heat and their 9-8 record. Anonymous sources inside the Heat organization were sniping at coach Erik Spoelstra, and on his podcast Bill Simmons was, in all seriousness, discussing with Dan LeBatard whether Miami would eventually need to trade away one of their Large Three. A 12-game winning streak has a way of silencing such concerns. Instead, it’s now the Los Angeles Lakers who are inviting ridicule. Since starting the season 8-0, they’ve gone a rather undominating 13-8. More than a third of the way into the regular season, they boast just three victories against teams in the top half of the league standings. Their laggardly play bottomed out Tuesday night (at least we hope it bottomed out) in a catastrophic 19-point home beatdown at the hooves of the Milwaukee Bucks.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: There’s a natural tendency in sports, as in many things, to find absolutes in situations inherently fluid. What does it mean? What does it prove? The urge is always to fast forward to the end of the movie. The regular season, for the Lakers a process of prepping to reach and win a Finals, is one in which everything matters in the aggregate, but for an individual game to have season altering significance is absolutely the exception to the rule. The Lakers had one two seasons ago, when they beat Boston on Christmas Day in a rematch of the previous June’s NBA Finals. “We were embarrassed,” Phil Jackson said Tuesday on the importance of that day. “It was an embarrassing final game in that playoffs, and guys wanted to prove something.”

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Lakers forward Ron Artest stared at the camera and spoke in a confident and inviting manner. “Talk to somebody about it. I did,” Artest said in a new public service announcement titled “You Can Do It” to promote mental health awareness. “Take the first steps and be a champ.” Artest approached the lectern at the Target Terrace in L.A. Live on Tuesday and shared his personal story in the same open manner. “It feels like I’m playing in a game, an intense, emotional game that I love. The passion for the game,  I give that same passion to …  mental health issues,” Artest said before donating a $50,000 check to Pacific Clinics. “It feels good. It’s hard to explain, but it feels good to have a chance to give back, to give someone else a chance.”

From Billy Witz, Fox Sports West: When Kobe Bryant lowered his shoulder and ran over Andrew Bogut, it was out of frustration. When that didn’t make him feel better — he was whistled for an offensive foul — Bryant tried a different form of release. He yelled an expletive at one referee, earning a technical foul. Then he shouted more profanity at another referee, earning a second technical. If Bryant was tired of watching the Lakers get gutted by a short-handed Milwaukee Bucks team, he was not alone. A few minutes after Bryant headed to the showers, the rest of the Lakers had boos rain down on them as they left the court after a 98-98 loss to Milwaukee.

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A while back me and one of my good friends from college and fellow Laker fan, Mike were talking about him contributing some to this site. He’s always had a great sense in looking at basketball and is someone that I try to touch base with throughout the season to talk Lakers and sports in general.  Below is his first offering for FB&G.

Who is Pau Gasol?  What is his role on the Lakers?  Where is he in the pecking order of The Association’s big men?  The elites?  All-time Lakers?

Does it matter? Why are we as fans always questioning this player in particular?

The answer from a broad perspective is because its fun. Part of being a fan is analyzing how good are our favorites. Whether it’s considering Kobe’s status among basketball’s all-time greats, or scrutinizing the importance of Lamar Odom, it’s just what we do.

But Pau seems like an interesting case. He seems to be under constant criticism from Phil, Kobe, the media, and fans.

Although this criticism seems to have quieted some this season, as there was the early MVP talk and his obvious reexamination after the second title in the row. Even the biggest Laker’s hater has to recognize his role in winning back to back to back championships.

For me, Pau as a champion is personified with his bucket at 1:37 of game 7 of last finals. He got the ball at about 17 feet away from the hoop with his back to the basket.  He was guarded by Rasheed Wallace, inarguably one of the best post-defenders ever. Pau backed down Sheed with the dribble, keeping his balance as Sheed brilliantly “pulled the chair”. Pau got to the block and turned baseline to be met with Garnett (another all-time defensive great) and Pierce, pump faked to get Sheed and Garnett slightly out of position (this fake dusted Pierce), and then rise for his high-release turn around jump only to be met with Sheed and Garnett at full extension. Pau then hestitated on the shot and finally released it on the way down (actually down?) to put the Lakers up 6 with 90 seconds left. I felt at the time that shot sealed the game. This wasn’t exactly true, but we all know the outcome.

It’s not a singular event or performance that defines a player. Just as Ron Artest’s heroic game 6 and 7 performances do not trump his consistent defensive energy, this play does not prove to me that Gasol “has what it takes.” Like Artest’s games, it punctuates what I have known by looking at the body of these players’ work.

There have been volumes written about how Pau is soft; he isn’t tough, he wilts under physical play, etc. From my perspective, this analysis has mostly been a mixture of xenophobia, racism, and misunderstanding of the European player. Certainly the criticism of Pau’s pain threshold seems valid. He seems to have missed an inordinate amount of time with the hamstrings last year, while Kobe has played through as much pain as Omar after he jumped out of a terrace in season 5 of The Wire.

Pau is an easy target. He is a 7-foot Spaniard with bad hair, a beard like an eighth grader’s, and has had braces for most of his Laker tenure.  He seems more likely to a character on MTV Made’s episode of “I Want to be a Starter on an NBA Team,” than one of the 10-15 players in the world.  But he is.  The advanced statistics bear this out.  Here is how Pau compares against his elite contemporaries:

Player        From To   PER   TS% TRB% USG%  ORtg DRtg  WS
Chris Bosh    2004 2010 21.2 .570 14.8 24.8  113  106  59.3
Kevin Garnett 1996 2010 23.7 .548 17.1 25.4  111   99  162.4
Pau Gasol     2002 2010 21.8 .570 14.2 23.9  114  105  77.9
Dirk Nowitzki 1999 2010 23.8 .580 13.2 26.9  117  103  144.6

Pau compares favorably to these all-time players, especially when you consider the circumstances of him playing for the Grizz to start his career and then being the second option for 2 years here. Pau is great, elite, but he is just…different. More than him being great, his value to the Lakers comes from how unique his game is (much like Odom).

It’s Pau’s style of play that makes the Lakers so successful. He is the perfect fit in the system because he is the ultimate conduit for the triangle. The length, the vision, and the awareness make him the real fulcrum of our offensive attack. As an aside, calling Pau the fulcrum does not diminish Kobe’s overall importance to the team. Without Kobe, we have nothing.  If a car has an axle but no engine, it goes nowhere.)

What makes Pau so different, foreign, is what makes him so perfect. This is also why he and Kobe seem to have such a strong chemistry. It might be trite to make the European player–soccer analogy, but it is so apt I need to have a go at it. It’s impossible not to explore this corollary when discussing Pau’s ability to move without the ball and his floor vision that expands more than just one pass ahead. Pau, and Kobe to a lesser degree, grew up watching midfielders and strikers, where the American player grew up watching wide receivers and running backs as their secondary sport influences. While American Football skill positions have a singular focus, World Football skill is defined in more than just scoring.

Scoring is the ultimate goal in World Football, but what players offer to a team’s success seems to have a greater value in the analysis of soccer. For example, Claude Makelele is considered to be one of the greatest all-time footballers. He is so influential that he has a position named after him: The Makelele Role. He never scored goals, rarely assisted or even hockey assisted on them, but is central to Premier League titles with Chelsea, Primera Division titles with Real Madrid, Champions League trophies with Real, and a Euro Championship and World Cup trophy with France. Makelele was never the greatest player on his teams. I mean if you look at Real with Zidane, Figo, and Roberto Carlos and them, he wasn’t even close. But he enabled the creative players to be creative, to express themselves, by being in the right position, by being an outlet, and by sometimes subjugating his own talents for the team. He was also a disruptive force in his own right, but his gift was the ability to facilitate greatness in others. Not in the way Nash or Kidd makes Shawn Marion or Richard Jefferson an all-star, but in a subtler way which again makes him as valuable. Makelele was never a star, he does look like a 5’2” Seal (recording artist not sea mammal) which might be a factor, but his winning trumps all.

Pau plays the Makelele role for the Lakers. I’m sure a more likely comparison would be with a striker as we see Pau as a finisher. I thought about it: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, moody, bad hair, lanky, plays for AC Milan, great touch, but ultimately too selfish; Raul, a Spaniard, dark, a facilitator more than a finisher, bad hair, but ultimately too handsome. Emile Heskey, the England target-man seem the most appropriate comparison as he, like Pau has this incredible understanding with teammates and seems to bail them out by positioning, but he just isn’t the winner Gasol is. As looks playing goes, Pau’s striker–self is a cross between Tottenham’s Peter Crouch (lanky and Gruiform) and Man U’s Berbatov (skilled and enigmatic), which is close but really not truthful.

So Makelele it is. I’m sure the Catalan Pau is would see himself as the cultured Xavi or Iniesta (maybe even the 5x defending champion most handsome man in sports: Carlos Puyol, but sorry, you are the short black guy with the bad complexion.

Gasol makes the Lakers great the same way Makelele made his team great: he is there. By there, I mean everywhere. His length, athleticism, positional and situational intelligence make him the ultimate outlet. Whether its Kobe or Lamar penetrating too deep (and then Pau finding the angle that allows them an angle to get to him for the finish) or at the high-post as the initiator of the offense, he is always available.

His value to the Lakers and the their composition may be greater than his value to Golden State or Milwaukee (I know, he would kill on those squads too), and that is why he is an all-time great and unlike Bosh or Stoudemire. They aren’t as good, they aren’t as valuable, and they don’t make their teams into contenders. Gasol does.

-Michael Crowder

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

From Janis Carr, OC Register: Phil Jackson didn’t have to caution his players about overlooking the Milwaukee Bucks. They understood the pratfalls of playing the lowly Bucks, a sub-.500 team that was missing two key players four days before Christmas. The worry was that Tuesday’s game fell between the end of a six-game trip and the highly anticipated Christmas Day game against Miami and could easily be dismissed. “It was mentioned (by the players who said) ‘don’t mess around and let this game get away from us,’ ” Jackson said. Someone wasn’t listening. The Bucks took advantage of a distracted Lakers team for a 98-79 victory at Staples Center, their first victory against the two-time defending NBA champions since 2007.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: With heads hung low, the Lakers walked toward the entrance tunnel amid a shower of boos reigning from the select few that still remained at Staples Center. Most of them had already left well before the Lakers’ 98-79 loss Tuesday to the Milwaukee Bucks became official, but the vocal disapproval capped off a day that featured very little going right for the Lakers (21-8). Some of the signs pointed back to as early as their morning shootaround. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson revealed a fender bender accident caused Kobe Bryant to arrive a half-hour late to the shootaround. Lamar Odom’s flu-like symptoms prompted Jackson to tell him to miss the morning session completely. And the challenges that come from playing its first game after a seven-game trip became too overwhelming.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: This is how you lose home-court advantage. When spring rolls around and the Lakers are opening a playoff series in Dallas or San Antonio or Boston, we’ll look back on nights like this and rue. Oh, will we ever rue! Earning home court in the playoffs requires you to pick off 90% of the low-hanging fruit on your schedule and then do a little better than hold your own in head-to-head matchups with the other elites. And fruit doesn’t come any lower-hanging than the Milwaukee Bucks in their current state. No Brandon Jennings, Corey Maggette or Drew Gooden. Travel-weary from having played last night in Portland. To say nothing of being, you know, just not very good, as conspicuously demonstrated by the 10-16 record they brought with them to this contest.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: The Bucks have one of the worst offenses in the league with Brandon Jennings, Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden in the lineup. All three were unable to suit up. While I did present a theory in November about the correlation between stagnant offense and Maggette/Gooden, it still stood to reason the shorthanded state would equal struggles scoring for Milwaukee. Reason fell to the wayside. Milwaukee shot 61 percent from the field in the first quarter (25 points), with seven assisted field goals, indicative of the unusual ease with which they operated all night. Earl Boykins may be a talented scorer, but this was his first 20+ game — off the bench, no less — in over a year. The timing of this explosion was no coincidence. Without question, there were also few miracle shots (particularly for the lil’ fella), prayers drained as the clock expired or a blocked shot bounced back into a visitor’s hands. But these shots should have been the kind pushing their deficit to 12, not padding a double digit lead.

From Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: This is a team that refuses to be predictable.  One night after a discouraging effort in Portland, Milwaukee marched into Los Angeles and bullied around the Lakers like they were the Clippers. And, in theme with the absurd premise of the Bucks beating the Lakers on the road, the lead bully was 5-foot-5, 135 pounds. Earl Boykins led Milwaukee with 22 points in their 98-79 win over the Lakers, but this was done by an ensemble cast, not a man alone.  Milwaukee harkened back to the brighter days of last season, moving the ball constantly (19 assists on 37 makes), hitting 3-point shots (8-14 3FG) and getting contributions from all over (four players between 15 and 22 points).  And while playing as well as they had all season offensively, Milwaukee continuously stifled the vaunted Lakers offense, keeping them from the customary runs during which they pull away from opponents.

From Chris Tomasson, NBA Fanhouse: Lakers coach Phil Jackson said before the game that his players had been warned not to look past struggling Milwaukee on Tuesday night toward the marquee Christmas Day affair against Miami. Turns out, not everybody was listening. Forward Ron Artest even admitted it. “I didn’t hear a warning,” Artest said after his team’s surprising 98-79 loss to the Bucks at the Staples Center. “Maybe they said that.” According to Jackson, the players said it themselves after the morning shootaround. They did it on their own in the huddle at the walkthrough this morning,” Jackson said before Tuesday’s game. “It was mentioned, ‘Don’t mess around and let this game get away from you, and then ruin what we’re trying to do on Christmas.”’

AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

The Lakers came into tonight’s game winners of five straight road games, playing relatively well, but not great. Milwaukee came into tonight’s game missing three key players (Brandon Jennings, Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden) and were coming off of a bad loss to Portland. With the Miami game looming, the only thing the Lakers didn’t want to do was to lay an egg to a short handed, lesser opponent. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what they did, laying a huge egg back at Staples in a 98-79 awful loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Lakers showed some signs of offensive execution early, especially with Lamar Odom getting whatever he wanted against Ersan Ilyasova in the first six minutes of the first quarter. However, the Lakers showed glimpses of some of their worst collective defensive execution. Keyon Dooling was able to get into the paint and create for others; Ilyasova hit a couple mid-range jumpers and got some easy buckets around the rim; and Andrew Bogut gave Pau Gasol all that he could handle. With Milwaukee able to score at a much higher rate than what they normally do, they were able to set their defense, one of the best defenses in the league, which gave the Lakers problems. Milwaukee challenged shots around the rim (five missed Lakers layups in the last three minutes of the first quarter) and turned the Lakers over — and scoring off of every Lakers first half turnover.

In the second quarter, the Lakers’ second unit got going, moved the ball well and took a lead after a Shannon Brown three, Matt Barnes hit a couple shots and a short Andrew Bynum jump hook. However, they were only able to extend that lead to three points before the starting unit was brought back in, and much of the same for the first quarter ensued. Bogut and Ilyasova continued to get easy looks while the Lakers continued to miss easy ones around the rim and turn the ball over. Although nothing screamed 19-point blow out in the first half, there weren’t any signs suggesting that the Lakers were going to figure out how to over come their four-point halftime deficit.

In the second half, things got worse. The offense stalled for several possessions at a time. Instead of moving the ball like they did for the first few minutes of the game and pounding the ball inside, they moved to a more individualistic approach, going into isolations and standing around the perimeter watching. Ball movement was non-existent as the Lakers went on a 9:41 stretch without an assisted basket. As the lead continued to grow, the Lakers shot selection got worse. The Lakers ended up shooting two-for-13 from behind the arch, helping to add to the percentage of Lakers possessions that ended with an isolation or a spot-up jumper — nearly 30 percent.

Milwaukee shot eight-for-14 from behind the arch, with little man Earl Boykins shooting four-for-five from long range with 22 points. At the end of the day, the Lakers flat out didn’t play well. Milwaukee executed a great game plan and the Lakers did the opposite. Frustrations eventually mounted to a Kobe Bryant ejection with about two minutes left to play.

I don’t think we need to remind you guys, but the Lakers play next on Christmas against the Miami Heat at 2:30 PST on ABC. We’ll have more on this matchup as the game approaches.

NBAE via Getty Images

NBAE via Getty Images

Records: Lakers 21-7 (3rd in West), Bucks 10-16 (9th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.5 (1st in NBA), Bucks 100.2 (30th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.4 (11th in NBA), Bucks 102.9 (8th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Bucks: Keyon Dooling, Chris Douglas-Roberts, John Salmons, Ersan Ilyasova, Andrew Bogut
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); Bucks:Brandon Jennings, Corey Maggette, Carlos Delfino, Michael Redd (out)

The Lakers Coming in:  A 5 game win streak has the team building momentum but news of Andrew Bynum’s knee being “sore” after the Raptors game has fans on a bit of an emotional low.  Now all questions are coming back to whether or not Bynum will ever be healthy and if his injury prone nature will hold the Lakers back in some way come playoff time. 

 All I can say to that is take a deep breath and relax.  After reading countless interviews with Bynum and listening to him talk on a variety of occasions, if there’s one thing that needs to be known about ‘Drew it’s that he doesn’t have a filter and will say exactly what’s on his mind.  So if his knee is a bit sore or if he felt a “sharp pain” he’ll say so without any reservations.  This is great for media outlets that love fresh copy, but I can also say that these fantastic quotes don’t always tell the entire story.  For one, Bynum isn’t the only player to ever have a sore knee.  You think Kobe’s knee hasn’t been sore in the past 6 weeks?  What about Odom’s?  You think Pau hasn’t had a few moments where he’s felt a twinge in his hammy?

My point is that these guys are professional athletes and an ache or pain isn’t news.  What’s news is that he said so when so many other athletes wouldn’t.  I understand that with Bynum’s history these things are interpreted differently as it’s not a leap to imagine his next stint on the injured list.  However, from all accounts the swelling is non-existent and his knee isn’t showing any ill effects from his most recent surgery.  So, again, take a deep breath and relax.  Understand that Bynum is going to share more than most but what he’s going through isn’t the most uncommon event ever. 

The Bucks Coming in:  The Bucks have lost 3 games in a row and it’s tough to find a silver lining for them.  They’re currently really banged up and the recent revelation that Brandon Jennings is going to miss 4-6 weeks after needing surgery on his left foot is a tough blow.  Just as bad is the fact that some of their players that they do have aren’t performing as well as expected.  The biggest of which is John Salmons, who has yet to regain the form he showed during last season’s final stretch and playoffs.  He’s scoring nearly 7 points a game less and his PER is only 10.9.  When you consider that he’s supposed to be their go to scorer and now he’s one of their least efficient offensive players, that’s going to be a major problem.

This team has also fallen off some on defense.  When the Lakers and Bucks played on November 16th, the Bucks were ranked #1 in defensive efficiency but in a month’s time they’ve fallen to 8th.  Playing some really good offenses helped knock them down a notch, but for a team that struggles to score as much as this one does any drop off in their ability to slow the other team is going to be difficult to overcome.  This team will still scrap and fight (remember, they’re coached by Scott Skiles), but if they don’t start to get better performances on offense from players that they expect more from while also picking up their defense to be a top 5 team on that side of the ball, it’s doubtful that the pre-season expectations of a playoff team that could get into the 2nd round are going to be fulfilled.

Bucks Blogs:  Jeremy at Bucksketball is doing great work and you should check out his site for all your Bucks needs.  You can find his game preview here.

Keys to game:  With the Bucks reeling, the best way to get a win is to jump on this team early and not let up.  As mentioned earlier, Scott Skiles’ teams will fight hard so if you let them hang around they’re more than happy to keep punching in an attempt to steal the game late.  With the Lakers having an advantage at every position and a deeper bench, they shouldn’t let it happen and instead should try to bury this team.

To get it acomplished, the Lakers need to work the mismatches that they have in their favor.  Whoever Chris Douglas-Roberts is guarding (and I suspect it will be Artest) should get some opportunities in the post to over power the slender wing man.  Lamar Odom should also get some post up and slashing opportunities against Ilyasova as LO is too physical down low for Ersan to deal with consistently.  Obviously Kobe and Gasol will also get ample chances to do damage, but I’d really like them to use the offense to get their shots rather than going one on one to get their baskets.  Not only do the Bucks have a good team defensive scheme to deal with isolations, but both Kobe and Pau have match ups that could theoretically bother them in Salmons (has the size to contest Kobe’s jumper and the quickness to stay with him on the wing) and Bogut (one of the best defensive bigs in the NBA).  So work the ball around and let other guys do some of the heavy lifting.

However, in attacking the Bucks D the Lakers must be careful with the ball and not get too caught up in trying to make the difficult pass.  The Lakers must play smart as the Bucks are 4th in the league in opponent’s and would love to get some extra possessions in the open court to get easier baskets.  So, the Lakers must show patience in their sets, make the Bucks D rotate, and then make the easy pass to the open man to get a good shot.  If they do those things, they’ll put themselves in a position to not only score efficiently but to also force the Bucks to play more against a set Lakers’ D when they take the ball the other way.

On defense, the Lakers just need to play smart and focused.  Without Jennings the Bucks are going to struggle to create at PG and that greatly helps the Lakers shift their defense to better account for Salmons, Bogut, and CDR.   The lack of an explosive penetrator allows the Lakers to show more help on these players and further strangle an offense that already struggles to breathe.  If the Lakers simply understand the personnel that’s on the floor, play hard and with their heads, they shouldn’t struggle to get the needed stops that will fuel their transition and early offense.

In reality though, regardless of the keys to winning mentioned above, this game comes down to focus and staying in the moment of tonight.  As we all know, there’s a pretty big game later this week that is easy to look ahead to.  You throw in the fact that it’s the holiday season and it’s easy to be distracted right now.  The Lakers need to keep their eyes on tonight’s opponent and not worry about later this week.  If they do that, they’ll be just fine and we’ll be talking about a 6 game streak going into the Christmas Day game.

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

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From JE Skeets, The Basketball Jones:  Saturday, December 18th was a strange night in the life of Ron Artest, even by Ron Artest’s standards. A group of Toronto artists created an art show celebrating Ron’s career entitled, “Lovable Badass.” And, as if to prove how unpredictable he is, Ron decided to show up. Check out the madness!

From Mike Bresnahan, The LA Times:  He still felt pain Monday and said his knee felt stiff during practice. “They tell me it’s just something I’m going to have to deal with,” said Bynum, who had cartilage repaired in his right knee in July.  There was no swelling in the knee, Bynum said, a key indicator that it might not be a big issue. In fact, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson wasn’t aware that Bynum was feeling discomfort.  “I didn’t hear any report about it. That’s news to me,” Jackson said. “He came out and practiced today. He’s still tiring and that will happen as he gets game conditioning.”

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers:  Jackson said he’s pleased with what Bynum has done in the four games since returning to the lineup last week in Washington. Sunday marked Bynum’s best statistical output- 16 points and seven boards in over 17 minutes of burn- but isn’t necessarily an indication of an ability to return to the starting lineup. “I just can’t tell you [when that will happen] until he’s got that kind of bounce in his step that says he can now play 30, 35 minutes,” Jackson said. “Then he can go out, play eight minutes and get into that four rotations that you want from a starter. A couple rotations each half, so that he can have the influence on a game. Right now, we’re content with how we’re doing it.”

From Mark Medina, The LA Times:  Although Lakers Coach Phil Jackson remains unsure how many minutes Smith will play (he had zero minutes Sunday against Toronto), there’s a litany of reasons the Lakers will welcome his presence, albeit in limited fashion: Andrew Bynum’s lingering knee issues, Theo Ratliff’s continued rehabilitation of his surgically repaired left knee, Derrick Caracter’s likely demotion to the Development League and never-ending fatigue for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.   In case any of the aforementioned variables exacerbate themselves, the 6-foot-10 Smith’s career averages of 11 points and 6.4 rebounds, his reputation as a versatile forward and center and his ability to hit mid-range jumpers and make defensive stops suggest he could hold the fort and eat minutes so that the Lakers can minimize their frontline issues.

From Chris O’Leary, Slam Online:  There’s the selflessness of what he’s doing. Nothing is guaranteed in sports. The NBA title may be the Lakers’ to lose, but they could well lose it. Between injuries, the Celtics and burgeoning Heat and Thunder teams, there’s the possibility that Ron Artest could never win a championship again. If that’s the case, he’d walk away from basketball without the physical fruits of his labors of last season.  There’s the breadth of the gesture. In donating the funds of his ring raffle to mental health awareness, Ron will impact lives beyond the realm of the traditional pro athlete. Everyone talks about the legacies of the game’s greats, but with something like this, Ron’s legacy extends beyond the hardwood. Yeah, the story of Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school team is a great one for coaches everywhere to use at their own tryouts every year (”Work hard, come back next year and who knows what could happen?”), but Ron’s efforts will save and/or permanently alter lives for the better. The people he’s helping may never know anything more about him or the L.A. Lakers than that Kobe Bryant played for them, or that they’re basketball players.

From SoCalGal, Silver Screen & Roll:  So I’ve been thinking about doing some kind of player profiles for a while now, but I haven’t had the time. Instead, I’m going to start a periodic feature called “Did you know…?” and post some little- and well-known facts about some of our players. They’re not facts that are difficult to find, they’re just facts that aren’t reported regularly. That said, if I post something that you think is incorrect or incomplete, feel free to correct/update at your peril in your comments.  This week, I’m going to feature our very own Mr. Intangibles, Derek Fisher. We all know about his family’s battle with his daughter Tatum’s retinoblastoma, a vicious and rare form of eye cancer, which, thankfully, is in remission. But I’ll bet there are some things some of us didn’t know.

This past Thursday, Kobe Bryant had his high school gym at Lower Merion High dedicated and renamed in his honor.   Lower Merion alumnus and sports journalism student at Penn State, Ben Goldberg-Morse was at the event and was kind enough to write up this piece for FB&G.  Enjoy.

He receives a mixed welcome every time he steps onto the court in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, but at Lower Merion High School, Kobe Bryant is treated like royalty, like a rock star, and, most importantly, like family.  Thunderous cheers and floor-shaking applause reverberated throughout the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium on Thursday night, as an estimated 4,000 fans fought through snow and poor driving conditions to show their support to the school’s most-decorated alum, as the brand-new facility was dedicated in his honor. 

“For me, it’s really about helping the next generation of Aces Nation,” Bryant told the crowd, trying to explain the connection that keeps him coming back to his alma mater, in Ardmore, Pa., year after year.  Each season when the Lakers come to town, Kobe makes an unheralded pilgrimage to his old stomping grounds, reconnecting with teachers, coaches and old friends.  This visit, while his game was quiet (he injured his finger and played poorly, although his Lakers beat the 76ers 93-81 on Friday), his return to the school was anything but.  Back in October, the five-time NBA champion donated $411,000 to the school district, although his continuing relationship with Lower Merion planted the seeds of this event long before that check was signed.  “This is where, I came from, this is where I grew up,” he said.  “I didn’t go to college, so this is my university.  This is where all my memories lie.”

Laker teammates Derek Fisher, Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown, Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter were in attendance, as was Phillies MVP shortstop Jimmy Rollins.  While the highlight videos of Bryant in his maroon and white Aces uniform elicited the most oohs and ahhs from the crowd, the night served to show the man he is more than the basketball player he is.  Fisher, who was drafted to the Lakers the same year as Bryant, and with whom he has shared a backcourt for all but three seasons of their careers, introduced Bryant to a frenzied audience.  Although when Bryant’s career wraps up, “he will be in the conversation as the best who has ever played,” Fisher said, he noted that “everyone here has really played a part in who he is, not what he is.”

Earlier in the ceremony, English teacher Jeanne Mastriano, who taught Bryant in 10th grade and a senior year speaking arts class, gave a little more insight into what he means to the community that he still cares so much about.  “You’re not a hero, you’re not a demigod,” Mastriano said, trying to put his accomplishments into perspective, even as she lauded his work ethic and successes by remarking that we all “reach for those moments of perfection.”  Of his relationship with the school, she told Bryant, “You sustain us, you inspire us, you gladden our hearts.  I treasure the fact that you’re a part of our family.  I love you for that.”

Gregg Downer, entering his 20th season as Lower Merion basketball coach, manned the sidelines as Bryant and his teammates, many of whom were in attendance Thursday night, won the Pennsylvania AAAA state title in 1996, just months before Bryant declared for the NBA draft.  “You have spent close to half your life in California, but you have never forgotten your Aces roots, down to the Aces shorts you wear under your Lakers ones,” Downer said.  Bryant has maintained a close relationship with his coach during his rise to NBA superstardom, even calling Downer on his cell phone, talking to each player on the LM team to encourage them en route to the 2005 state championship game.  The coach continued, “It’s an honor to name our new home the Bryant Gymnasium, and every time we take the floor, you will be a part of us.”

Clearly touched by the adoration bestowed upon him during this homecoming visit, Bryant stammered through a short speech (complete with “MVP” chants from the audience) before cutting the ribbon to formally open the gym.  “This is not really my cup of tea, so I’m actually nervous,” he said, before addressing the students directly.  “Demand greatness from yourself,” he told them.  “If I ask you guys for anything, I ask you to always remember that as long as you possibly can, because I want to see greatness come out of this school.”

Even after suffering through a 3-11 shooting night on Friday, scoring in single digits for only the second time in the past three seasons, Bryant still seemed moved by the gym dedication, telling Comcast Sportsnet’s Dei Lynam after the game, “The coolest thing about it was that the students from the school were there, and that they came out to support me.”

-Ben Goldberg-Morse